I’ve been listening to what will surely be the finest jazz record of the year – and one that I reckon will come to be regarded as one of the classic releases on the ECM label. It’s In Movement, the first release from Jack DeJohnette’s new trio who have been playing together for a couple of years. Now they have produced a very fine album of contemporary jazz, full of historical resonances, on which all three musicians deliver stellar performances.
There is a lot of history here. In Movement features two famous sons of famous jazz fathers. Bass player Matthew Garrison’s father was Jimmy Garrison, the bassist in the band led by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane’s father, John Coltrane. While there on drums is a man who sat in with John Coltrane’s band a few times, played with Miles Davis (most notably as the primary drummer on Bitches Brew) and with almost anyone of note in jazz you could mention since. The bond is not only musical but family, spiritual: ‘Matthew lived with me in his teen years,’ DeJohnette says on the ECM website. ‘He used to stay down in the basement and practice, and I’d work with him, tell him to listen to this, that and the other. We are connected at a very high, extremely personal level that I believe comes through in the music.’
There may be history here, but this is jazz that’s very much of the present, in both the trio’s approach and the spare but effective use of electronics. They are – again quoting ECM – ‘a forward-looking band, their ears sharply attuned to the possibilities of 21st-century sound’. Past and present are revealed in the tracks the trio have chosen to record on this first album: Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’, Miles’ ‘Blue In Green’ and Earth Wind & Fire’s ‘Serpentine Fire’ alongside ravishing new compositions by Ravi, Matt and Jack.
The album opens with John Coltrane’s iconic response to the white racist bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. It’s a piece that ‘can stand with any work of tragic poetry, from any artistic discipline’ (Pitchfork). Some years ago, Spike Lee made a documentary on the atrocity, 4 Little Girls, in which he used the composition’s transition from mourning to cathartic protest to great effect. Here it is played beautifully by Ravi who, while referencing his father’s recording, produces his own distinctive interpretation.
It’s hard to pick highlights from a set as consistently excellent as this, but every time I have played it I have been transfixed by two of the self-composed tracks: ‘In Movement’, ‘Two Jimmys’, along with their take on Earth Wind & Fire’s ‘Serpentine Fire’. The title track builds from near-silence, beginning with a single-chord pulse, tapped cymbals, and hi-hat before Garrison’s bass and Coltrane’s soprano melody unfurls in long, lyrical strides. His tone here and throughout the album is just gorgeous.
‘Two Jimmys’ is dedicated to Hendrix and Jimmy Garrison; with its insistent bassline matched by DeJohnette’s cymbals, and Coltrane’s smoky sax rising above the turmoil, its sound is like listening to Bitches Brew. ‘Serpentine Fire’ is a funky tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire, with DeJohnette’s forceful drumming and Garrison’s growling electric bass creating a solid foundation for Ravi’s magnificent solo.
The trio offer a radical reinterpretation of ‘Blue in Green’ one of the most beautiful tracks on Kind of Blue. It’s largely a gorgeous conversation between Ravi’s lyrical soprano sax and Jack DeJohnette’s impressionistic piano. I didn’t know that Jack played piano (apparently he led a piano trio from the keyboard in his early Chicago days.) – but he does here, making three exquisite contributions on the instrument. After ‘Blue in Green’ comes another lyrical number, ‘Lydia’, composed by DeJohnette and dedicated to his wife. Finally, the album closes with ‘Soulful Ballad’, a truly soulful duet between DeJohnette on piano and Coltrane on soprano sax.
The sound and synergy of the group is our three voices coming together, collectively, acoustically and electronically. Ravi has a unique sound on tenor, soprano and, now for the first time on record, the sopranino. He’s got great intuition and his own way of playing, rhythmically and harmonically. Ravi and Matthew are aware of their heritage, but part of the intention of their music is to be recognized for who they are – and that’s already apparent. That’s why I play with them, because they have their own voices.
In Movement was recorded in New York in October 2015, and produced by the incomparable Manfred Eicher. This album is a classic from ECM: if I was compiling the list of my 40 favourite ECM albums now, I would have to include it.