Drummer and composer Jack DeJohnette did a most unusual thing at the beginning of the early show Saturday night at the Manchester Craftmen's Guild's Jazz Hall: He introduced the entire band before they got started with the concert.
Once they got into it, however, I understood why.
Mr. DeJohnette and his four backing musicians -- keyboardist George Colligan, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist/vocalist Jerome Harris and saxophonist Tim Ries -- performed just four tunes, not including an encore in their 90-or-so minutes on stage. It was billed as a 70th birthday tribute for Mr. DeJohnette, who actually celebrated that milestone birthday last year.
Depending on your perspective, Mr. DeJohnette's lengthy excursions into the genre of modal music that his late compatriot and trumpeter Miles Davis invented either transported you to a different place or lost a little focus. In my view, although the playing was first-rate throughout, with virtually everyone getting to stretch out in the process, it was the latter if for no other reason than the majority of the tunes lasted for at least 25 minutes.
The show opened up with "One for Eric," a tribute to the late saxophonist/clarinetist Eric Dolphy which opened up with a rubato lead line from Mr. Ries, playing tenor, and moved into a 7/8 groove. "Priestess of the Mist" began with a soundscape courtesy of -- well, pretty much the entire band, a rhythm figure on Mr. DeJohnette's tom-toms most prominent.
"Improv Tango African" went all over the place, with a nearly martial opening beat from Mr. DeJohnette, a melody line from Mr. Ries, Mr. Colligan switching to pocket trumpet for a bit, Mr. Harris's wordless vocals and a groove that recalled northeastern Brazil (which, of course, experienced heavy African musical influence). That led to the highlight of the show: A call-and-response between Mr. DeJohnette and Mr. Colligan, on piano. The mournful closing "Blue" featured a lead line with Mr. Colligan on trumpet and Mr. Ries on soprano.
The funk-based "Miles," which Mr. DeJohnette said he wrote just after the death of Mr. Davis, with whom Mr. DeJohnette worked at the beginning of Mr. Davis's fusion period, served as the encore. Mr. Harris did his slap-and-pop thing and Mr. Collison contributed a warp-speed, note-bending solo a la Jeff Lorber. Although the music itself was excellent, perhaps more and shorter tunes might have made for a better concert.
Rick Nowlin: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3871. First Published March 4, 2013 5:15 AM