Jack DeJohnette specializes in a brand of drumming that might best be described as defiantly musical, as demonstrated by everything from his early ’60s work with John Coltrane to his aggressive funk brilliance with Miles’ electric band of the same decade; from his masterful work supporting Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio, to his recent exploratory performance with Chick Corea and Eddie Gomez at the International Association for Jazz Education conference in New York.
“The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers,” the drummer’s second duo project for his own label, is no exception to that rule. The disc, featuring adventurous and uncompromising guitarist Bill Frisell, was recorded at Seattle’s Earshot Festival in 2001. The two settle into riffs and rhythmic patterns and proceed to follow where the muse leads — in this case, into atmospheric, often hypnotic soundscapes, with DeJohnette variously playing drums, percussion and piano, and Frisell moving between guitar and six-string banjo.
The set, largely improvised and generally devoid of melody, is still chock-full of appealing tones and eclectic textures. The long title track opens the CD with serene guitar washes and gradually picks up steam, as Frisell works his way into searching, bluesy acid-washed declarations before finally retreating. “Otherworldly Dervishes” begins in a state of air-hanging stasis, as effects-drenched guitar tones play off a primal backbeat, and later reaches toward a more intense earthy fusion.
DeJohnette’s impressionistic piano flourishes center “Storm Clouds and Mist,” reminiscent of the wispy New Age terrain of Windham Hill. “Through the Warphole,” “Cartune Riots” and other pieces amount to miniature sound-effects experiments. The appropriately titled “Ode to South Africa” is all polyrhythms and sticky guitar lines, leading into chanting and haunting wordless vocals. And Coltrane’s “After the Rain,” with DeJohnette’s mellow piano lines trailed by Frisell, is the perfect chill-out closer. — Philip Booth