Jack DeJohnette’s name brings instant recognition to any serious jazz fan. One of the most highly revered drummers in the biz, his inventive, fiery percussion has graced landmark recordings by no less than John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Pat Metheny, and as a leader, particularly with his band Special Edition, DeJohnette was a fusion pioneer as far back as the late 1960s. The New York Times called him “one of the most important musicians in the last 40 years of jazz.”
But DeJohnette’s interests have always extended beyond jazz, and in his latest endeavors he takes a detour that will undoubtedly find some jazz purists raising an eyebrow or two: DeJohnette has launched his own independent label, Golden Beams Productions, and released two initial titles that radiate a softer touch. Music From The Hearts Of The Masters finds the legend in a duet scenario with Foday Musa Suso, a master of the Gambian kora (a West African 21-stringed harp lute), while Music In The Key Of Om is an hour-long, single-track meditation utilizing synthesizer and the Resonating Bell, a dome-like percussion instrument. A member of the cymbal family, it produces an ambient sound DeJohnette likens to “something one might hear in the mountains of Nepal.”
Music In The Key Of Om, composed, arranged and performed entirely by DeJohnette, succeeds in its goal to create a mood conducive to “peace, relaxation and healing.” But Music From The Hearts Of The Masters is ultimately the more musically satisfying of the two recordings. Suso, a Mandingo griot, is no stranger to collaborations with Western musicians, having worked with the likes of Bill Laswell, Herbie Hancock and Pharoah Sanders. He and DeJohnette met at a Phillip Glass concert in London in 2002 and agreed to create together. They spent four days in DeJohnette’s own Magic Moments Recording Studio, two of those rehearsing and jamming, before laying down the largely improvised music that comprises their joint release.
DeJohnette plans to explore other areas of world, electronic and meditative music with Golden Beams. On the boards are collaborations with percussionist Don Alias, the Brazilian-Indian vocalist Marlui Miranda, and an electro-world remix project with Ben Surman. DeJohnette well realizes he’s bucking music industry trends, but that makes the venture all the more attractive to him. “People seem to be more supportive of artist labels now because they’re hearing what the artist wants to put out,” he told a New York radio station, “what direction the artist is going in. They hear firsthand how the artist is viewing the concept. It hasn’t been filtered or guided by an A&R person or a record executive.”