Jack DeJohnette - drums, keyboards; John Abercrombie - guitar; Alex Foster - alto sax, tenor sax; Mike Richmond - bass
By 1975, drummer Jack DeJohnette was just a few years removed from his sideman stint with Miles Davis and was deeply immersed in his own search and discovery mission as a composer and bandleader in his own right. Joining him on this October 10, 1975 performance at the Great American Music Hall were kindred spirits John Abercrombie on guitar, Alex Foster on alto sax and Mike Richmond on bass (the same crew that had appeared on DeJohnette's Prestige album of that year, Cosmic Chicken). With a nod to both the burgeoning fusion movement and the hippie-jazz aesthetic that had been unleashed by saxophonist Charles Lloyd in 1967 with Love-In and his popular 1968 followup, Forest Flower (DeJohnette played on both of those breakthrough recordings), these forward-thinking colleagues kept things suitably energetic, spacey and frequently wah-wah-fueled throughout their daring set.
With DeJohnette on keyboards, they open their GAMH set with a subtly playful piece, "One for Devadip and the Professor," which was written for guitarist Carlos Santana and DeJohnette's former mentor, saxophonist Charles Lloyd. The minimalist piece is marked by some probing Lloyd-inspired sax work from Alex Foster and pungent, distortion-laced guitar lines by Abercrombie, whose own potent ECM release that year (Timeless with DeJohnette and keyboardist Jan Hammer) was a significant addition to the fusion genre. Richmond, on big-toned upright bass, also feeds his signal through a wah-wah pedal for that quintessential '70s effect. Richmond then kicks off the title track of Cosmic Chicken with a wild Hendrix-inspired solo bass showcase that has him bowing his upright while simultaneously activating his wah-wah pedal and flanger effect for a startling array of tonal colors and textures. Following that extended bass intro, the band jumps in with slashing power chords and slamming beats, clearly channeling the turbulent rock power of Miles' most dynamic electric period before settling into a kind of slow-grooving, meditative ostinato that has Foster stretching heroically and provocatively on tenor sax. Abercrombie follows with a ferocious six-string onslaught over Richmond's bubbling wah-wah basslines that rivals John McLaughlin's raw, ripping, proto-punk stylings on Miles Davis' Jack Johnson or Tony Williams Lifetime's Emergency. Hardcore fusion aficionados will fall to their knees with their teeth chattering over the intense guitar solo. Next up is DeJohnette, who takes his time developing his own masterful solo, traversing the kit with quick hands, lightning instincts and signature aplomb to complete the sequence of individual showcases on this marathon 36-minute vehicle.
The quartet follows with "The Vikings Are Coming," which would later appear on DeJohnette's 1976 ECM album, Untitled. This piece is noteworthy for the leader's appearance on tenor sax, shadowing Foster's own tenor lines on the folkish theme that starts off the tune as Abercrombie and Richmond freelance behind them. Abercrombie and Foster later engage in some heated exchanges near the end of this swirling, atmospheric number. The multi-faceted, multi-directional DeJohnette opens the set-closer with a contemplative solo piano piece, "Memories," that eventually heads into just a touch of jaunty stride playing. By the time the band enters, they are swinging in straight ahead fashion on "Eiderdown" (from Cosmic Chicken), with the drummer demonstrating remarkable facility and surging sense of swing indicating that he could have easily had a whole separate career as a jazz pianist, if he had so chosen. Midway through this extended jam, the leader returns to the drum set to beautifully underscore Foster's blistering alto sax solo and Abercrombie's probing guitar solo. Richmond then takes over with an unaccompanied bass solo that again has him exploring the use of effects pedals with his upright bass (this time a volume pedal). This extended jam closes with a kinetic, conversational duet between guitarist Abercrombie and drummer DeJohnette that peaks when Abercrombie stomps on his distortion pedal and heads to the stratosphere with DeJohnette fueling his excursion…shades of John Coltrane and Elvin Jones in full stride. Abercrombie, DeJohnette and Foster then engage in a brisk exchanging of eights, in classic bebop tradition, before completing this very potent set in San Francisco.
In 1975, DeJohnette also formed the highly interactive Gateway trio with Abercrombie and bassist Dave Holland, and the three colleagues continued to record together off and over the next three decades. DeJohnette was a key member of Pat Metheny's 80/81 band (which also featured tenor saxophonists Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman and bassist Charlie Haden) and in 1985 appeared on Metheny's landmark collaboration with Ornette Coleman on the provocative Song X. The drummer-composer-bandleader continued to record prolifically through the '70s and '80s for ECM with his Special Edition, Directions and New Directions bands. For the past 25 years he has been a member of the Keith Jarrett Trio (with bassist Gary Peacock). In 2003, he recorded the Tony Williams Lifetime tribute album Suadades with Trio Beyond (guitarist John Scofield and organist Larry Goldings) and in 2005 he formed his own Kindred Rhythm/Golden Beams label, which has so far released such diverse offerings as the world music recording Music from the Hearts of the Masters, the relaxation disc Music in the Key of Om, a provocative duet with Bill Frisell entitled The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers, the Grammy Award-winning New Age album Peace Time and the trio recording Music We Are with bassist John Patitucci and pianist Danilo Perez. DeJohnette's most recent projects include The Intercontinentals, featuring South African vocalist Sibongile Khumalo, and his current working quartet featuring guitarist Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski, bassist Jerome Harris and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. (Milkowski)