Jack DeJohnette featuring Bill Frisell: The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers (2006)
Drummer Jack DeJohnette, now four releases down the road with his Golden Beams label, turns to the archives for this historic live set with Bill Frisell. The guitarist first heard DeJohnette's music as a teenager in the '60s, though it took some time before they would first perform together on Don Byron's Romance with the Unseen (Blue Note, 1999). They embrace a shared musical vision with one ear to the ground, digging the groove, and the other wide open to the possibilities of spontaneous invention in the moment.
This hour-long set documents the duo's performance at the 2001 Earshot Festival in Seattle, a mostly improv affair where very little was planned out in advance. At the time DeJohnette was on the road with Keith Jarrett, but he managed to fit this gig into the schedule, and it's radically different than anything he's done with Jarrett before or since.
Frisell, who curiously receives "featured" credits on the album coverlooks like legalese to meis pretty dominant throughout. During the sprawling eleven-minute title piece, he builds from near-silence to floating, rippling, and sometimes tearing phrases with heavy country and blues accents. DeJohnette engages dynamically on the drums, riding the backbeat and anticipating his moves with occasional thunderous booms. Three briefer pieces find Frisell playing the six-string banjo in a very untraditional way, emphasizing dissonant intervals and oddly timed phrases.
Listeners who are familiar with DeJohnette's work are probably aware that he also plays the piano and is quite serious about the instrument. The two pieces here that feature him on piano are the weakest, because they tend toward overstatement and a more crowded sound. The closing "After the Rain" feels emotionally exhausted, without the magical dance and trance of the earlier pieces.
But the hyperkinetic "Ode to South Africa" is a syringe-full of weird pulsing intensity (check out the cymbal patterns) and "Otherworldy Dervishes" rides the exciting knife edge between the groove and outer sounds. DeJohnette invited his sound engineer, Ben Surman (son of British saxophonist John Surman), to add some post-production flourishes and effects, but it's rarely easy to resolve what was created in the moment through loops and electronics versus what was modified or added later to create texture and boost momentum.
This isn't the most consistent recording, but it does offer a unique opportunity to enjoy two masters jamming hard and reaping the often unexpected fruits of their shared intuition.
Track Listing: The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers...; Cat and Mouse; Entranced Androids; The Garden of Chew-Man-Chew; Otherworldly Dervishes; Through the Warphole; Storm Clouds and Mist; Cartune Riots; Ode to South Africa; One Tooth Shuffle; After the Rain.
Personnel: Jack DeJohnette: drums, percussion, vocals, piano; Bill Frisell: guitar, banjo; Ben Surman: additional percussion.