June 17, 2024

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CD review: Jack DeJohnette – Sorcery – 2023: Video, CD cover

While Sorcery was not Jack DeJohnette’s first appearance on record under his own name, it did mark a major step in his career, from first-call sideman to working bandleader. Both the mix of material (full of freedom, structure, electricity, and humor), the personnel, and DeJohnette’s own multifaceted role as drummer/keyboard player/composer predict the diverse paths his groups would pursue over the next two decades.

Jazz is a genre that I can easily swing either way on. I would not say I generally have strong feelings for it, unless of course I happen to hear something that somehow rings all the bells. But even these seldom consistently do so over the course of a full LP.

While I liked the Gateway album quite a bit, this one here tends to be far less consistent. It’s all instro, save for one cut, which is exactly the opposite in a capella. Many jazz musicians over the years have had a fondness for what I call free-form jazz, that style of play where everyone seems to be on their own wavelength, doing their own thing without regard to what one another are playing.

Both of the extended tracks on this LP delve into that, though not exclusively so. That aforementioned a capella track is A2, which did nothing for me whatsoever. Tracks A3 and B2 were both decent, fairly solid songs that I would probably have enjoyed more had they been in better company.

The closer is the track I really like on here; a keyboard driven prog/jazz instro that is what I find interesting about jazz music. The album as a whole suffers from too much diversity. I realize you can’t please all listeners all of the time, and few artists are adept enough to come close to pulling it off. Most should never have tried.

A classic & courageous melding of offbeat-Fusion & unconventional Jazz, further elaborating under strong Avant/Free themes.

Dejohnettes early work as a leader was some of his most adventurous & distinctive with a circle of brilliant musicians. They embraced Fusion consummately, but with a very personalized & distinguished mannerism that resists many of the genres stereotypes.

This abstruse & uncommon personalization was then thrown into an Off-Road or Avant-Garde ambit making a truly delicious, totally novel, highly conceptual & impressively unpredictable confluence. Lead by Jack or John Abercrombie’s equally superb Gateway collective (both with Dave Holland as a close associate & brilliant contributor), these sessions found a platform through both Prestige Records or ECM. Incredibly, most of these early recordings with Jack at the helm have not been reissued.

Sorcery is the only album from his early Avant-Jazz-Fusion creative output aside from the Gateway series that has been granted reissue treatment. It’s a very special & diverse album with a great line-up (Dave Holland, Mick Goodrick, John Abercrombie, Bennie Maupin & Michael Fellerman, with Jack doubling on keyboards as well as vocals & at one stage a saxophone).

The albums name & the cover image all act as a preamble to something special… some kind of “figure”? facing away draped in a ceremonial-garb with a snake coiled around it’s base against a black backdrop, on some “Don’t Look Now” tip. The first of the LP’s six tracks kicks-off with Sorcery #1, a down-tempo, darkly atmospheric movement of sophisticated but threatening tenebrous Jazz that spans an almost fourteen minute incantation. It’s a very sombre & murky affair, with a bridge of wild expostulation from Maupin roughly around it’s centre. Great stuff.

The second incision is a fucking wonderful vocal only pasquinade on the expression “the right time” from all or most members with echoing acoustics from a large hall or spacious enclosure. “The Rock Thing” comes third, a magnificent howler that has Jack & Holland laying down a simple & generic jaunty groove whilst Goodrick & Maupin ornament & bluster with complex & urgent frippery before descending into total Off-Road psychedelic freak-out (all in less than 4.16 minutes).

Actually, this is one of my favourite tracks ever for multiple achievements. Goodrick, a guy you don’t hear much from, plays one of the greatest guitar solo’s of all time…it’s almost like he is playing “backwards” because of his notation I guess? The results are just sensational & it’s completely unique. Maupin’s super expressive, unhinged passion & the subsequent crescendo between the reeds & guitar are effin’ magic.

Jack has some kind of astro-synth ambiance on the go & either Jack or another member is messing with chimes or bells at stages…it’s glorious & vibrant, with the noisy, tumbling, kaleidoscopic rock-out epilogue the cherry on the proverbial asteroid. 4th is the profound 14.22 minute Reverend King Suite, a mad & intense Avant-Garde apex.

Presented as six phases (Reverend King, Obstructions, The Fatal Shot, Mourning, Unrest, New Spirits On The Horizon), it begins with a serene ambient hum/synth backed by sparkling bells, sporadic bass from Holland & nutty organ embellishments from Jack. It’s very’ very trippy, evocative & theatrical. It starts to become “distressed” at just over the three minute mark, & slowly progresses into absolute pandemonium & emergency. Jack is playing with some kind of weird accessory on his snare that mimics his drum-strokes with a secondary after-tone. It’s a far-out piece by any standard.

5 brings the only dud track on the album, Four Levels Of Joy that has Jack messing around on the keyboard for three plus minutes. The last cut, simply titled “Epilog (sic)” is another fairly straight groove, pushed into more emotive territory by some nice chops rom Dejohnette & some FX-pumped keyboards. Very nice stuff indeed despite a 3.11 minute brevity. One helluva’ album! & actually an album that got me interested in both Jazz & Avant-Garde (I was coming more from Fusion bias at the time & had not connected with the crazier Avant stuff yet). Quite rightfully this album is still in circulation. It’s just such a pity that more was not done at the time with this line-up as this is very precious & inspiring work.

Featured players include Bennie Maupin and Dave Holland, old partners from live and studio endeavors with Miles Davis; and two guitarists who would rise to prominence in later DeJohnette bands, John Abercrombie (Directions and New Directions) and Mick Goodrick (Special Edition).

Sorcery | Jack DeJohnette

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