Recently, new age music got a major dose of street cred courtesy of an unlikely source. Though it wasn’t televised or even publicized all that much, legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette snagged the 2009 Grammy for—get this—best new age album.
You may remember DeJohnette as the man holding down the beat for several little known musicians like Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and some guy called Miles Davis. Over the years, DeJohnette has tackled and mastered nearly every type of jazz and pop form, from free jazz and fusion to rock and R&B. Now, we can add new age to that list.
I must admit that new age music has never been at the top of my list. Embarrassingly for a music critic, I’ve always viewed it the way people look at abstract art: It’s pretty, but what’s so special about something my four-year-old nephew could do. If music were a collection of animals, new age would surely be the snail. Slow and methodical, it seems to rarely change its pace and direction. If jazz is the epitome of spontaneous, exciting, and emotional music, new age always seemed like the opposite—stagnant, boring, and devoid of genuine feeling. A not-so-scientific look at the past Grammy winners for best new age album reveals names like Paul Winter, Enya, and the Clannad. Accomplished musicians in their own right, but not exactly the artists that speak for a generation. Jack DeJohnette is another story.
Peace Time, the album for which DeJohnette won his new age Grammy, has perhaps changed my view of new age music forever. Equal parts post-rock, indigenous sounds, and movie music, it is a work that has about as much in common with “Orinoco Flow” as DeJohnette’s experimental jazz. So, if this is new age music in 2009, sign me up.
Peace Time sounds like a cross between the Australian outback, a walk on the moon, and a Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack. There are burps, flutes, piano, washes of fuzz, and, of course, amazing percussion—all courtesy of DeJohnette. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this album does has one thing in common with Enya and her fellow new age musical gurus. Peace Time is a soothing work. It could foreseeably be used as background music in your gym’s yoga class. But, it’s really so much more.
Peace Time isn’t the first foray into new age music for DeJohnette or jazz musicians. In fact, jazz guitar god Pat Metheny won the Grammy for best new age album back in 2003 and Yusef Lateef won the award in 1987. But those works somehow leave you less than prepared to digest Peace Time.
But don’t take my word for it. You can download the entire album (one hour-long track) on emusic for the equivalent of about 50 cents.