Saturday, November 17, 2007

Jack DeJohnette with Foday Musa Suso @ Joe’s Pub, New York City, 13 May 2005

Jack DeJohnette is my favourite drummer. Period. Not since last Saturday but more like since three decades. I’ve admired his light but tight touch since his collaborations with Charles Lloyd, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Joe Farrell and many others since the 1970s.

Yoko and I walked into the bar area at Joe’s Pub at around 9 p.m. on the Friday night. It was already getting crowded. When I turned around, there he was, sipping a glass of Sangiovese and talking with Jane Chun, his publicist and business manager. A thin man, medium height, in good shape. “He looks like Colin Powell,” said Yoko. I managed to catch him when he turned leave, shake his hand and say how he had affected my life.

Jack DeJohnette stood on the stage and gave a lengthy introduction to the music and the crew who consisted largely of family. His daughter was there and she is also the one who designed her dad’s website: His son-in-law was there with sound and lights. Tonight’s group included two other musicians, Foday Musa Suso and Jerome Harris. Don Alias was supposed to be with the band but a sign at the door had already informed us that he was unable to make it tonight. So we were left with a trio, and although I am a great admirer of Alias’ percussions this would not be a handicap. Jack told how he had heard Suso in London and gone to introduce himself backstage and how this had led to this collaboration several years later.

Foday Musa Suso is a Mandingo griot, or a musician-cum-story teller from West Africa where traditional culture and knowledge has for generations been passed on through music and poetry. Suso himself comes from the Gambia, a small village, although by now he has toured all the metropolises of the world and performed with western greats like Philip Glass and Bill Laswell. At the risk of talking longer than he wished to, Suso explained to the audience about history of his instrument, Kora, the 21-stringed West African lute made of a half a gourd calabash with a hardwood pole. It is latest of the three main griot instruments, and was invented by Suso’s ancestors some four or five centuries ago.

The entire concert was spent in an African mood, with Suso’s kora the only treble instrument. He was phenomenal, strumming the hypnotic ostinatos on the stringed instrument in front of him while at the same time being able to do amazing solos on the higher strings.

Jerome Harris, playing an acoustic bass guitar, provided a solid and thick bass line to the music. He didn’t solo but his work was good and the deep bass at times seemed to hold it all together while DeJohnette wandered off on his numerous toms and cymbals.

Jack DeJohnette’s drum sound is as distinguishable as any other instrument played by a master. He keeps his drums tuned emphasizing the beautiful tone of natural wood. His right foot kicks complex accents on the bass drum and there is the inimitable crisp tone of the flat ride cymbal. While on beautiful and ambiental songs like Ocean Wave, from his new CD with Suso “Music from the Hearts of the Masters,” DeJohnette beat more African rhythms on his thick snare drum, on many others he would revert to his trademark jazz rhythms.

At one point of time during the second half of the concert, Jack left his seat behind the drum kit and walked over to the grand piano. Suso explained that they were going to play his song Moon/Light, which he had recorded originally with Herbie Hancock on their duo album “Village Life” in 1985. But, he added, with no offence to Herbie, he preferred to play it with Jack on the piano. The performance was intense with Jack providing a steady background chord succession on the ivories while Musa’s virtuosity shone in his lead.

When the last song was announced the packed venue was enthusiastic for more. It was getting sweaty despite the air conditioning. Unfortunately, no encore was allowed as there’d be another concert at 11 p.m. The superb performance by Foday Musa Suso, Jack DeJohnette and Jerome Harris had lifted our spirits and transported us to another place.

© Juha I. Uitto 2005

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