Music

Jack DeJohnette: The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers

Daniel Spicer

Veteran drum legend teams up with jazz guitarist du jour to produce a quirky and fiercely non-commercial take on the art of duo improvisation.


Bill Frisell

The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers

Display Artist: Jack DeJohnette featuring Bill Frisell
Label: Golden Beams
US Release Date: 2006-02-07
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Insound affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Ever since he first came to public prominence in the mid-'60s, drummer Jack DeJohnette has consistently dwelt in jazz's leftfield: whether as part of Charles Lloyd's psychedelic crossover band; in Miles Davis's epochal, proto-fusion outfits; or as leader on numerous 'multi-directional' ECM albums. So, it's somehow reassuring to find that, four decades on, despite immense stature as one of the greatest drummers in jazz and a major figure in the history of the music, he's resisting the temptation to bathe in comfortable glory with the Lincoln Centre Neo-Cons. His latest album finds him still pushing at the boundaries, avoiding the obvious and generally tearing the house down.

Recorded live at Seattle's Earshot festival in October 2001, The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers documents DeJohnette's first musical meeting with another modern legend, guitarist Bill Frisell, and sizzles with the thrill of spontaneous exploration, with the emphasis on open-ended, non-idiomatic improvisation. The album is peppered with short, sonic vignettes and you can virtually hear the grins on the musicians' faces as they goad and dare each other through these brief but intense bursts of imagination, all of which have been retrospectively awarded humorously apt titles. Thus, "The Garden of Chew-Man-Chew" is a piece of oriental tinkering with Frisell's prepared banjo sounding like a Japanese koto; "Cat and Mouse" is a tense, argumentative banjo and percussion stand-off; "Through the Warphole" uses trippy guitar effects to create a disorientating vortex of noise; "Cartune Riots" is a chaotic barrage of kinetic sound effects; and "One Tooth Shuffle" conjures up a decrepit hillbilly porch jig with its broken banjo and scrapyard percussion.

For all its spontaneity, however, the main meat of the album can be found in a handful of longer tracks that have grown out of prepared themes -- basic musical settings used as springboards to extended investigations and where, with the benefit of some unobtrusive bass synth programming, the duo impressively manages to whip up all the power of a full band.

The atmospheric title track, opening the album, feels like the most obvious reference to DeJohnette's pioneering work as the powerhouse centre of those world-shaking Miles Davis bands of the early '70s -- a slow-burning, 11-minute, jazz-rock rumble that showcases Frisell's crisp electric guitar. Frisell's sound is utterly unmistakeable in the opening minutes, tossing out elusive, momentary licks with a countrified twang, which seem to disappear almost before they've fully formed, like smoke uncurling from a cigarette. As the track builds momentum, Frisell's sound gets a harder, rockier edge but manages to pull back from the usual, overblown clichés of fusion virtuosity, instead using well-placed loops and effects to play down technique in favour of an overall mood. Likewise, DeJohnette eschews drum pyrotechnics, sticking close to the beat but making perfect use of his famously fluid sense of time to keep things interesting, with waves of intensity ebbing and flowing.

Elsewhere, "Entranced Androids" uses a heavily processed, electronic-sounding guitar and insistent, machine-like drum patterns to set up a strange robotic electro-groove over which Frisell still manages somehow to lay down some decidedly funky lines. "Otherworldly Dervishes" combines heavy drums, a squelchy bass synth, echo-heavy rock guitar and flickering electronic effects to create a kind of crunching, 21st century fusion. And on "Ode to South Africa", sprightly drumming and an Afrobeat guitar riff set up an upbeat, optimistic, African vibe over which Frisell lets rip with an inventive and lyrical guitar solo. The tune ends with DeJohnette's wordless vocal chant sounding like the rebirth and regeneration South Africans have been striving for all these years.

The set's rounded out with two closely-related, more-or-less solo piano pieces, "Storm Clouds and the Mist" and "After the Rain", in which DeJohnette returns to his first instrument to conjure up rolling banks of clouds, ending the album with a moment of quiet beauty, the sun coming out when the tempest has passed.

You've got to hand it to Jack. This album is released on his own Golden Beams label, an imprint that he set up last year in order to bypass the whims of pigeon-hole obsessed major record companies and release his work in a variety of areas -- from drum and bass grooves to New Age meditation music. He's 64 this year and shows no sign of slowing down. If this new album is anything to go by, there are ple

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Texas Gentlemen Share the Powerful and Soulful "Last Call" (premiere)

Eclectic Texas band, the Texas Gentlemen return with a vibrant, imaginative LP that resists musical boundaries. Hear their latest epic single, "Last Call".

Music

Vincent Cross Pays Tribute to Folk Hero via "King Corcoran" (premiere)

Gangs of New York-era James "The Rooster" Corcoran was described as the terror of New York's east side. His descendent, Vincent Cross, retells his story with a "modern dark fairy tale".

Music

Eddy Lee Ryder Gets Lonely and Defiant with "Expected to Fly" (premiere)

Eddy Lee Ryder explores the loss of friendship and refusal to come of age, cloaked in the deeply dramatic and powerful song, "Expected to Fly".

Playlists

Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Film

Creative Disruption in 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

Portrait of a Lady on Fire yearns to burn tyrannical gendered tradition to ash and remake it into something collaborative and egalitarian.

Music

Fave Five: The Naked and Famous

Following two members leaving the group in 2018, synthpop mavens the Naked and Famous are down to a duo for the first time ever and discuss the records they turned to help make their aptly-named fourth record, Recover.

Evan Sawdey
Books

Fleetwood Dissects the European Mindset in His Moody, Disturbing Thriller, 'A Young Fair God'

Hugh Fleetwood's difficult though absorbing A Young Fair God offers readers a look into the age-old world views that have established and perpetuated cultural rank and the social attitudes that continue to divide us wherever we may reside in the world.

Music

Art Feynman Creates Refreshing Worldbeat Pop on 'Half Price at 3:30'

On Half Price at 3:30, Art Feynman again proves himself adept at building colorful worlds from unexpected and well-placed aural flourishes.

Music

The Beths Are Sharp As Ever on 'Jump Rope Gazers'

New Zealand power-poppers the Beths return with a sophomore album that makes even the most senior indie-rock acts feel rudimentary by comparison.

Music

Jessie Ware Returns to Form on 'What's Your Pleasure'

On What's Your Pleasure, Jessie Ware returns to where it all began, the dance floor.

Music

The Jayhawks Offer Us Some 'XOXO'

The Jayhawks offer 12-plus songs on XOXO to help listeners who may be alone and scared by reminding us that we are all alone together.

Music

Steve McDonald Remembers the Earliest Days of Redd Kross

Steve McDonald talks about the year that produced the first Redd Kross EP, an early eighth-grade graduation show with a then-unknown Black Flag, and a punk scene that welcomed and defined him.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.