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DeJohnette, Jack: Special Edition

Between the years 1979 and 1984, legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette (who has played with Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins, John Scofield, Gateway, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and many others) formed a revolving membership of all-star musicians in an outfit he called Special Edition. The band included David Murray (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Arthur Blythe (alto sax), Chico Freeman (soprano & tenor sax/flute/bass clarinet), John Purcell (alto & baritone sax/flute/alto clarinet), Rufus Reid (acoustic & electric bass), Peter Warren (double bass/cello), Howard Johnson (tuba/bariton sax), and Baikida Carroll (trumpet), with DeJohnette contributing drums, piano, organ, melodica, clavinet, percussion, and occasional vocals. ECM Records has collected the albums Special Edition, Tin Can Alley, Inflation Blues, and Album Album into one box set simply titled Special Edition. The CDs come housed in a white cardboard box, with white cardboard sleeves for each disc, and a white booklet with info on each album and black & white photos. It's almost like the second coming of The Beatles White Album from an appearance perspective, but inside it's all classy, majestic jazz from one of the masters and his friends.

While this box set does contain a wealth of material, it's amazing how the switching around of musicians on each albums changes the feel and flavor of the music. For instance, 1979's Special Edition is an upbeat, energetic affair, with Murray & Blythe blasting away with dueling saxes while Warren and DeJohnette rumble underneath with some meaty rhythms on tracks like "One For Eric" and the wild "Zoot Suite". Even on the covers of John Coltrane's "Central Park West" and "India", the quartet go for a rich, almost Big Band feel, and the haunting "Journey to the Twin Planet" is nearly 9-minutes of sonic explorations that clearly puts this track in the avant-garde/ free-jazz camp. Jump over to 1980's Tin Pan Alley, and things change significantly, as the 'in your face' style of the previous album gives way to more relaxed, soaring melodies that focus more on swing and groove. Much of this can probably be attributed to the presence of Freeman and Purcell, whose approach on sax, clarinet, and flute greatly contrasts with Murray & Blythe. Here, songs such as "Pastel Rhapsody", "I Know", and the title track have a more elegant feel to them, substituting the raw energy of the previous album with a greater sense of melody and swing.

Fast forward to 1982 for Inflation Blues, and in comes Reid on bass and Carroll on trumpet, making for an explosive line-up with DeJohnnete, Freeman, and Purcell. Featuring all-original pieces written by DeJohnette, Inflation Blues runs the gamut from the complex free-jazz/chamber music of "Starburst", to the lush NY styled jazz of "Ebony", to the more stabbing "The Islands". The drummer adds some intricate, funky stick work & vocals to the groove laden title track, which has a hint of reggae to it, while "Slowdown" is more of a mysterious bit of jazz & blues, with Reid's sinewy double bass solos leading the charge. Lastly, 1984's Album Album sees Murray once again returning to play alongside Purcell this time, while Johnson makes his first appearance. There's a playful, upbeat quality to most of the songs on Album Album, which you hear right off the bat on the swinging "Ahmad the Terrible" (no doubt a tribute to pianist Ahmad Jamal), as sweeping melodies soar from Purcell, Murray, and Johnson, while DeJohnette's complex drum work and Reid's nimble bass lines hold it all together. Jack also adds in some stellar piano work on this one as well. The familiar Thelonius Monk track "Monk's Mood" makes an appearance here and is given royal treatment by the quintet, while both "Festival" and "New Orleans Strut" combine big band swing with fun, playful New Orleans jazz and R&B. DeJohnette's drum work on these two tracks is remarkable, as he shuffles and burns underneath the wall of sound created by the reed men. "Third World Anthem" is the albums longest cut at nearly 11-minutes, and is power packed with drama and tension from the musicians, rhythmically complex but complete with utterly memorable melodies. For all you drum fans out there, Jack gives a clinic on this one, and Johnson's tuba solo is a thing of beauty.

It can't be stated strongly enough just how extraordinary a collection Special Edition really is. Though each album contained in this box set has a different feel due to the changing cast members, the presence of DeJohnette is always felt and holds it all together no matter what direction the band is going in. Wildly entertaining and utterly jaw dropping, Special Edition is not to be missed by any serious jazz fan.

Track Listing
CD 1-Special Edition
One For Eric
Zoot Suite
Central Park West
Journey To The Twin Planet

CD 2-Tin Can Alley
Tin Can Alley
Pastel Rhapsody
Riff Raff
The Gri Gri Man
I Know

CD 3-Inflation Blues
The Islands
Inflation Blues

CD 4-Album Album
Ahmad The Terrible
Monk´s Mood
New Orleans Strut
Third World Anthem
Zoot Suite

Added: February 13th 2013
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Artist @ ECM Records
Hits: 1869
Language: english

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