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

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


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.