Jazz For Intellectuals : Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, and Matt Garrison

I saw Jack DeJohnette in the ’80s in Toronto, playing with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock, and my mind was blown. He completely changed the way I perceived musical time — it was like he held the entire space-time continuum in his hands (or at least the time part of it) and could alter perception and experience with a flick of his wrist and the strike of a stick on a drum.

So I was pretty excited to see him again Sunday night at Théâtre Jean Duceppe at Place des Arts. This time around he was playing with Ravi Coltrane (son of John) on saxes and Matt Garrison on electric bass. I’ve never heard Ravi Coltrane play and was pretty interested to check out his sound.

The first piece, very aptly titled Atmosphere, set the mood for the night. DeJohnette, the epitome of cool in his red shirt, his ease on stage and his laid back attitude to time (real time more than musical time — the show started a good 15 minutes late) started by rubbing the drumheads, while Garrison produced, well, atmospheric effects on the bass. Coltrane began on soprano sax: his sound was clear and cool, precise and concisely lyrical. His playing reminded me quite a bit of another one of my idols from the 80s, Jan Garbarek.

But after around 15 minutes of free improv and ambient sound effects, I realized that I don’t really like this kind of jazz. I started craving a groove the way a Schoenberg neophyte craves a chord progression. He did tease us with a tiny bit of a beat at one point, but it wasn’t enough — it was like living in a world of endless sonic foreplay. Don’t get me wrong — these are world-class musicians — but unless you’re into this kind of rarefied soundscape you might find yourself in a semi-futile search for a hook or a lick to hang on to.

One of the highlights of the evening was the trio’s rendition of the Miles Davis/Bill Evans tune Flamenco Sketches (Coltrane senior played on the original track on Kind of Blue). For this one DeJohnette took a seat at the piano. Again highly improvisatory, in the modal style established by Davis, the chord changes are beautiful and the overall arch of the piece very satisfying. The colours and energy draw the listener in; in this piece the door opens a little more easily to this style of jazz. Lydia, dedicated to DeJohnette’s wife, was another highlight — the energy built to an intensive frenzy at one point and again, it was hard not to get drawn in.

Overall this was an excellent concert featuring musicians at the top of their game. But if you’re looking for jazz that doesn’t require much intellectual effort, these guys probably aren’t for you.

Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, and Matt Garrison played the Montreal Jazz Fest 2014. More information on the festival can be found HERE.