The BLOG: Culture

Jack DeJohnette Trio both exciting and experimental

It worked for rock, so why not jazz? Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey, has played drums for the Who, and Jason Bonham has filled his father John’s drum seat on tour with Led Zeppelin. Each reconstituted classic rock act was a successful mixture of the old and the new. Both Jason and Zak were capable musicians, and the nostalgia factor helped sell tickets.

In similar fashion, one of the hottest groups in jazz today, the Jack DeJohnette Trio, includes the scions of two jazz giants of the 1960s. Ravi Coltrane, son of iconoclastic saxophonist John Coltrane, plays sax with DeJohnette. And Matt Garrison, whose father, Jimmy, was John Coltrane’s bassist, is the bassist in the trio.

The Jack DeJohnette Trio, which comes to the 1,200-seat Berklee Performance Center in Boston on Friday, Dec. 4, is no nostalgia act, however. At 73 years of age, DeJohnette, who played with the elder Coltrane briefly, is as energetic and experimental as he was when he first appeared on the scene in his native Chicago in the mid-1960s. Considered one of the best and most influential drummers in the history of jazz, DeJohnette has made a career of helping extend the jazz vocabulary. He spent several years in the late 1960s as a member of the Charles Lloyd Quartet, which incorporated elements of World Music into its performances. DeJohnette also was the primary drummer on Miles Davis’ ground-breaking 1970 fusion album “Bitches Brew,” which eschewed traditional jazz rhythmic patterns for a freer, more rock-like beat.

DeJohnette’s drum kit today is plugged in so that he can, from time to time, elicit electric pings on cymbal strokes. Unlike his father, who played acoustic bass, Matt Garrison’s instrument is a five-string electric that he occasionally plays like a guitar, strumming chords as well as single-note bass lines. Garrison also employs a looping pedal and sampler. Ravi Coltrane’s melodic lines, deep and soulful like his father’s, are the glue that holds the trio together. Coltrane may be the closest thing to a traditionalist in the Jack DeJohnette Trio; he is not, nor does he try to be, the volcanic searcher that his father was.

The trio features original compositions, although established songs by jazz and rock artists are sometimes part of an evening’s performance – the trio played the Earth, Wind, and Fire hit “Serpentine Fire,” along with “Blue in Green,” from Miles Davis’ classic album, “Kind of Blue,” at a recent concert in New York City. The three often deviate from regular 32-bar song form, embarking on spontaneous group improvisations.

Do not confuse spontaneity, though, with a lack of cohesion. The Jack DeJohnette Trio comes to the Berklee Performance Center fresh off a tour of France and a New York City recording session for an album due out on the ECM label in April. Expect Garrison, Coltrane and DeJohnette to be tight as, well, a drum.

Tickets should be purchased as soon as possible, as this 8 p.m. concert has the potential to be sold out. There will also be a free pre-performance talk with Grammy award-winning author and journalist Bob Blumenthal at 7 p.m. in the Davis Room, second floor of Berklee Performance Center.

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile can be reached at [email protected].