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Joe Major

The Egg
Albany, NY
December 9, 2016

by Joe Major

There were justifiably high expectations surrounding The Egg’s nearly too rich Saturday night double bill headlining the Jack DeJohnette Trio, and featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition.

Maybe you’re of an age where you remember educational toys like The Visible Man, and The Visible V-8 Engine, transparent views into the systemic workings of complex mechanisms. Then the similarly unfettered, rarified peek into The Visible Jazz Drummer afforded you no less a revelation.

Past is definitely prologue. Bandmates saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and electric bassist Matthew Garrison are sons of John Coltrane and Jimmy Garrison, who, along with DeJohnette were “present at the creation” of a seismic jazz moment. DeJohnette is perpetuating that transcendent, exploratory musical lineage.

He opened several numbers playing pining minimalist piano, a late sprouting specialty of his, seeding paths for more trenchant following segments. He would then transition to what must be the most shelf-emptying drum assemblage in the Sonor warehouse. His nimble boutique saturation, spacing, accents and electronica were nothing short of illustrative. On an evening when he was awarded a third-time Jazz Journalists Association drummer of the year honor, also on exhibit was his ability to construct sublime atmospheric beds for Coltrane and Garrison to inhabit.

In interviews Ravi Coltrane has referred to DeJohnette’s direction of the group as freeing. “Jack inspires us to look at what’s out there, what could be possible. ‘Listen this way, listen that way, there are no mistakes.’ It opens you up to possibilities; looking for possibilities, finding them, exploring them, not fearing them. That’s very liberating for improvisers, very challenging as well.”

That freedom, and that downed gauntlet, were evident in the arc that most of the passages attempted. Through effects-laden hymnal beginnings, on to resonant, meditative middles and then to often souped-up, spacy passing gear crescendos, their unison playing created a thick, high thread count texture. It almost seemed nostalgic to see Coltrane’s solos morph from breathy to bemoaning, segueing into a scaling saxophone edict zone, an authority demanding to be acknowledged. Garrison, too, used deep sustain and a full electro tool box to shape other-dimensional soundscapes that throbbed, pulsed and carried the bass share of the thematic water.

Under DeJohnette’s baton there was ultimately an embedded sense of triumph in the reverent gravity and devout earnestness with which the trio orchestrated the current anchor leg of this music’s venerable, ongoing relay.

The evening opened with Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition, who, with only a few apologies to Martha and the Vandellas, came on like a heat wave. The searing Mahanthappa, himself a 2016 JJA laureate on alto saxophone, led mesmerizing guitarist Rez Abassi and redoubtable tabla and trap kit player Dan Weiss, into an intoxicating fray, rife with raga residue and bebop filigree.

The Indian influences so seamlessly infused the inherent jazz elements that, lava like, an entirely new medium was created. A pent-up, charismatic rhythm was inexorably loosed, and immediately infectious. The group’s rendition of a still settling world struggling for personal and external balance was simply jarring.

Mahanthappa’s saxophone lived in a register crease that was beckoning and reckoning, sinewy and muscular. His proclamations and swinging drones wove their way through the set with sweet hoarseness. Abassi’s elastically tweaked guitar seemed to broadcast communiques, reaching perimeters that encompassed Hammond B-3 organ comps and sitars on steroids, all in the service of team cohesion. Weiss’s lotus-positioned, precisely metered card-in-the-spokes tabla playing and fleshed out jump-in-the-driver’s-seat full kit overdrive drama were brilliant and complementary, further enhanced at one climactic point by his Hindustani vocal scatting.

Much of this synthesis was epitomized by a number like “IIT,” that ran the gamut from a timeless slow simmer to an increasingly fevered, anxious roulette collision with the engines of modernity. Announced as being reflective of India’s Y2K tech dread, the tune’s stop and go hectic vexations literally set time askew. You can keep time so hard that time fractures.

Indo-Pak Coalition’s deft trio craft and impassioned urgency staked their claim as irresistible prospectors, girded with insoluble concept and flavorful execution, on a valiant dig for new equilibrium.

Joe Major is an inveterate jazz pilgrim for whom the holy grail is always the evocative communion of impression meeting expression. Living over the border in Williamstown, MA, for thirty-plus years, he’s been the grateful beneficiary of countless Williams College performances that have arranged themselves on his ever shifting life list.