Jack DeJohnette leads a supergroup, and rare Chicago reunion, of AACM veterans Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill along with bassist Larry Gray.
DeJohnette’s stated intention in assembling this particular group was to re-connect with his musical roots. He was an integral part of the free jazz scene in Chicago in the early to mid ’60s, out of which that influential South Side collective AACM emerged.
As documented in George Lewis’ history of the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself, DeJohnette was among the established local players who participated in Friday afternoon sessions with Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Malachi Favors and other music students emerging from Woodrow Wilson Junior College. DeJohnette actually introduced Mitchell to Abrams at a 1963 rehearsal of Abrams’ fluctuating Experimental Band, a precursor to the AACM.
Even as DeJohnette’s ultra-special Special Edition celebrated the past at the Chicago Jazz Festival, there was little nostalgia in its fiercely relevant sounds. The set began with “Chant,” a Mitchell piece from the late ’70s whose progression from stately, pastel-toned minimalistic lines to intensely charged, bagpipe-like invocations couldn’t have been more gripping. On Abrams’ “Jack Five,” DeJohnette created a nifty prelude by running a hand-held mic under and above the hi-hat and cymbals to capture percussive overtones. He later rocked the piece, which found Threadgill in harder-edged form on alto than he has been lately, with a popping bass drum solo.
Throughout, DeJohnette was in his element with his polyrhythmic accents, booming tones and, on Mitchell’s “Think,” mallet strokes. The chamber-like piece opened with the composer on bass recorder, Threadgill on bass flute and Gray on cello. DeJohnette’s featured composition, “Museum of Time,” was a beaut, lifted by Abrams’ bluesy rolling figures and eloquent open attack and the richest harmonies on an evening dominated by overlapping melodies and counter tones.