7 March 2011

One for Eric

I’d thank Jack DeJohnette and his band for the dedication but One for Eric was for Eric Dolphy. So be it and it’s justly deserved by ED, but it was also the best tune of the night. A complex mix of unison head, 7/4 and other times, hard dynamics and expansive improv that had our Concert Crew (Brenton, Asanka and I) rocking in our seats with joy. Fabulous. We all said at the end that we wished they’d just played like that all night.

It was a strange performance. Jack and band performed the music that Miles had written as a soundtrack to a documentary on Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight (boxing) champion of the world. This was music of the Bitches Brew era (the Jack Johnson album was dated 1970, shortly after BB) the time when Miles infuriated the staid jazz community with electric instruments and rock beats. I found the form and composition much easier to follow live than from the recorded album and more entertaining. I was also glad that the band didn’t slavishly follow the original. This was an interpretation rather than a clone. The guitar was more modern and smoother than McLaughlin’s harsh edgy blues tone, and the trumpet was fuller, more rounded sounding than Miles. Jack himself was a revelation. He had a wonderfully solid tone, presumably both from kit and technique. Brenton noted lots of rudiments: rolls, paradiddles, etc, and sharp dynamics and unexpected hits. It was a wonderfully varied style, maintaining constant grooves but always moving feels and accents and emphases and colours within them. And he had such a steady, observant, almost steely presence with only the touch of an occasional smile. It surprised that he was so easy and personable when conversing with the audience after this professionally concentrated performance. Most impressive.

The others were not names I knew, but they did a great job. Guitarist David Fiuczynski struck me first with his double neck guitar: a seven string and what looked like a 12-string fretless (?). Some nice comping chords and steaming fast sustained lines on both necks, and lots of slides on the 12-string. I also noticed a particularly good ear that bounced accurate lines back and forth with both sax and trumpet. The idea of a fretless guitar had me flummoxed, but reflections did seem to show a very smooth fingerboard surface although with lines, and he was playing with lots of slides. Sax Jason Yarde was a whiz on soprano if a bit less exciting on baritone. He also played what seemed to be a small keyboard, but annoyingly fiddled with pedals at his feet for extended periods. Maybe he was he having some technical problems, but the soprano extravagances were delightful. It’s always difficult to take the Miles role on trumpet, but Byron Wallen did the job comfortably. He copied some necessary melodies and some pensive lines but with a much bigger, more rounded sound, as well as playing flute and keys. And I loved bassist Jerome Harris. He had such a reclusive presence sitting behind a music stand and with a clumsy-looking technique on both right and left hands, but the lines sounded good, the tone was a soft, un-intrusive jazz bass sound to die for, he played gentle slap and free and swing and solos as required and seemed such a lovely guy. In fact, the whole band just seemed perfectly capable and relaxed despite banks of TV screens and extensive charts that they were playing to and so unpretentious and grateful to an appreciative audience. I would have liked to meet them.

But I do wonder what the concert could have been without the film. The film was a distraction from the music, and although the story was historically interesting, neither film nor central character was very congenial to me. JJ’s need for speed and white women and life that’s “only worth living if you have the best” is understandable as a black response to overt racism of Ku Klux Klan intensity, but it’s not an attractive image to our comfortable, white, post-‘60s world. It was only in the scenes of a friendly boxing match of 69-year old Jack with an older sparing mate that I felt some attraction to the man. But that’s that. The main issue was that I found it hard to concentrate on the music, and I wasn’t the only one. The final tune, One for Eric, was a revelation and wonderfully received. I just wished the concert had all been like that. So my response to “One for Eric” was “Come back Jack”. I want to hear more.

Jack DeJohnette (drums) led a quintet comprising Jason Yarde (baritone, soprano saxes, keyboards), Byron Wallen (trumpet, flute, keyboards), David Fiuczynski (guitar) and Jerome Harris (Fender bass). They performed Miles Davis’ soundtrack to a documentary film about Jack Johnson at the Opera Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.

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