Jack DeJohnette: Sorcery

The modal jazz and moody noodling reflects the 1970s fascination with mind-blowing but DeJohnette was better on the 1974 ECM album Timeless


The credits to this period piece “mixed bag” of post-Coltrane, now essential, now dispensable music from the master drummer and multi-instrumentalist include “special thanks to the snake handler, Gillian Droeger”. The snake can be seen in front of the sorcerer’s hat, made by artist Susan Lane, which features in the cover photograph.

Academics debate endlessly putative parallels and differences between sorcery, shamanism and alchemy. Common to all such is the quest for transformed and transformative consciousness – a trope which, whether consciously so or not, exercised many a musician in the 1960s and 1970s. Think only of Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower, with Sorcery in its track listing, recorded live at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee – and Jack DeJohnette.

There’s plenty of potentially consciousness-warping rhythmic power and textural shading here – witness the crisp and tautly sprung drum introductions to the near-14-minute Sorcery and the concluding Epilog, the latter co-writtten by DeJohnette and Holland. And there are also shape-shifting “moodscapes”, exemplified by Abercrombie’s initial contemplative guitar figures and Bennie Maupin’s brooding and bubbling bass clarinet in the development of the spaced-out ostinato title track, which also has some fine pizzicato work from Holland.

However: whatever transformative mood may have been established here, the subsequent brief stab at avant-garde vocalising or sound-production on The Right Time does as much to destroy it as the following boogaloo figures and distorted guitar sounds (from Mick Goodrick) which mark the aptly titled The Rock Thing.

Opening with a Coltrane portion, the six-part The Reverend King Suite promises much. However, with DeJohnette at times on electric keyboards or C-melody sax, the music can noodle in rubato cross-rhythmic mode to patience-testing effect. Michael Fellerman’s trombone roughs things up over the urgent measures which fire some of DeJohnette’s most mesmerising drumming of the session, but more noodling and electronic soundscapes follow. And so to the lightly inflected, keyboard-dominated mellow Latinate grooves of Four Levels Of Joy – fortunately, faded out after some three minutes.

As suggested, a mixed bag, this. I’ll keep it for its period flavour – and the sorcerer’s hat. But when I want to hear a definitive example of DeJohnette’s special magic around this time, I’ll take his contributions to Abercrombie’s magical Timeless, cut for ECM in June 1974.

(1) Sorcery nr 1; (2) The Right Time; (1) The Rock Thing ( 20.25) – The Reverend King Suite: (a) Reverend King; (b) Obstructions; (c) The Fatal Shot; (d) Mourning; (e) Unrest; (f) New Spirits On The Horizon; Four Levels Of Joy; Epilog (20.39)
(1) DeJohnette (d) with (1) Bennie Maupin (bcl); John Abercrombie, Mick Goodrick (elg); David [sic] Holland (b); Michael Fellerman (metaphone). (2) as (1) voices only. (3) DeJohnette (d, kyb, c-melody sax); Holland (b); Fellerman (metaphone, tb). Side 1: Willow, NY March 1974; Side 2: Bearsville, NY May 1974.
Prestige Stereo/Craft Recordings CR 99524