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Jack DeJohnette on NPR's Fresh Air

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Friday February 01, 2013

From NPR

A ‘Special Edition’ Box Set Of Jack DeJohnette And Band
By: Kevin Whitehead

On a new box set collecting the first four albums of Jack DeJohnette and his band Special Edition, two discs are gems and the other two have their moments. DeJohnette’s quartet-slash-quintet was fronted by smoking saxophonists on the way up, set loose on catchy riffs and melodies. The springy rhythm section could tweak the tempos like no one this side of ’60s goddess Laura Nyro. “Ahmad the Terrible” is named for pianist Ahmad Jamal, another Chicago jazz player who mixes progressive ideas with good tunes and a good beat. In “Tin Can Alley,” the saxophonists are Chico Freeman on tenor and John Purcell on baritone.

In Special Edition, Jack DeJohnette sometimes played keyboards as well as drums. On the band’s classic debut, he often reached for his breath-controlled electric melodica, a handheld keyboard that didn’t sound like much on its own. But it could fill out the harmonies when the band morphed into a chamber quartet, with Peter Warren bowing his bass or cello. As a composer, DeJohnette mined a movement in contemporary music that was leaking into jazz then — minimalism, with its layered repetitions: a different kind of riffing energy.

The saxophonists in that first 1979 version of Special Edition were two Los Angeles transplants making a big dent in New York: Arthur Blythe on alto and David Murray on tenor, as well as bass clarinet. In that quartet, minimalism, swing riffs, collective improvising and rhythm-and-blues got tied into one neat package.

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