Last night the ‘Dark Magus’ was among us again and what a joyful experience it was. The DeJohnette band performed the often overlooked ‘Jack Johnson’ music, complete with the famous Jack Johnson film as back drop. The original Miles Davis album had been cut in 1970; not long after the more abstract ‘Bitches Brew’ and just before his free flowing ‘Fillmore’ excursions. A very different sound was emerging and it is only now being properly evaluated. Miles wanted to carve a pathway right into the hearts of the younger rock audiences and he achieved that without jettisoning all of his loyal Jazz audience. At the time of its first release ‘Jack Johnson” alternately shocked or thrilled Miles fans. The music was most definitely not rock music and if anything it was an edgier avante guard type of Jazz. The brilliance of its execution and the raw electric energy created new fans to replace the older ones who stopped listing. The ‘Jack Johnson’ story-line is fundamentally about the issues of race and achievement against the odds, but there is a thread of good natured humour in this celebration of a likable man. ‘Jack Johnson’ the soundtrack was pure Miles and pure genius. It is obvious that Miles saw Jack Johnson as a role model.
A large part of Miles genius was in finding the right musicians and giving them the right push. This resulted in some of the most successful collaborations in Jazz. The original ‘Jack Johnson’ was actually a pared back version featuring Miles (t),Steve Grossmnan (ss), Herbie Hancock (ky), John McGlaughlin (g) Michael Henderson (b)Billy Cobham (d) and Brock Petters (v). The first release was soon followed by ‘The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions’ and we saw a much enriched palette with the additional artists -Jack DeJohnette (d), Wayne Shorter(ss), Bennie Maupin (bcl), Chick Corea & Keith Jarrett (ky), Herbie Hancock (org), Sonny Sharrock (g), Ron Cater, Dave Holland, Gene Perla (b), Airto Moreira (perc), Hermeto Pascoal (v, d).
Last night master drummer Jack DeJohnette presided over a new and updated version of ‘Jack Johnson’. His guiding hand as a leader was in evidence every step of the way and with a smaller lineup than the original band he achieved the same result. It was electrifying from start to finish as the soundscape ranged from the hauntingly beautiful (the boxers loneliness after winning the the world heavyweight title only to be ignored in his own country) to the dissonance accompanying shocking Klu Klux Klan scenes. The musicians were almost all multi-instrumentalists and their virtuosity on which-ever axe they picked up was evident. There were two older musicians, Jack DeJohnette and Bass player, Jerome Harris; The rest were younger and all were very talented. All respect to Byron Wallen for playing Miles so beautifully but the real accolade must go to Jack DeJohnette . To see him sitting under a large projected image of Miles was to see see a perfect juxtaposition between past and present.