The Jack DeJohnette Trio, featuring Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke
Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012
Better than: The drum solo in Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick," and probably any drum solo in any rock song, ever.
One expects great things from the live performance of a trio led by someone like Jack DeJohnette, a drum luminary who's played with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and too many other jazz titans to name. But there was a moment onstage at Yoshi's last night when DeJohnette -- who's celebrating his 70th birthday with this tour -- fell into a magical section with bassist Stanley Clarke that blew up even our vague expectations.
It was the climax of the trio's rendition of McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance," where, for a few moments, Clarke and DeJohnette seemed to be playing from the same brain. Bass and drums often feel, at their best, like an extension of the other. But here, as Clarke wriggled out quick phrases, his fingers dancing up the neck of his stand-up bass, DeJohnette matched him almost note for note, tossing out snare rolls and tom taps in eerie unison. The section felt like a musical expression of a gleeful shudder, or like getting ants in your pants: Clarke flitted from the top of his instrument to the bottom in quick bursts, his face frozen and elongated in a lost expression. As he'd done all evening, DeJohnette snatched the architecture of the rhythm out of thin air, all the more impressive because Clarke's contribution suggested almost nothing in the way of tempo.
Like two men sharing the same goosebumps, Clarke and DeJohnette seemed to find the splattery punctuation of the section at once, right as they played it. As soon as the song ended, Clarke looked over at DeJohnette, pointed at him, and gave him one of those mystified looks that good instrumentalists make when they know they've connected in some unknowable way. DeJohnette just grinned and pointed right back.
There were several high points of last night's set, the first of four nights this trio will play at Yoshi's S.F. After a vivid take on DeJohnette's "Indigo Dreamscapes," Corea held out the three pages of sheet music for the audience, seemingly stunned that they'd pulled it off. The audience just laughed. During a rendition of the classic "Someday My Prince Will Come," whose classic version was done by Davis, the trio never once played the chorus of the tune straight through -- instead, they just improvised their way through it. And then there was DeJohnette's charm: Looking crisp and sprightly for 70, the noted drummer and bandleader graciously thanked the crowd and his bandmates at the beginning of the show. "I feel like a kid in a candy store, playing with these guys," he said, grinning.
It's safe to say that Clarke and Corea felt similar: At the beginning of "Passion Dance," when DeJohnette took a long and fiery solo, throttling his bright, throaty drum kit from a twinkle to a thunderous roar, his bandmates watched reverently: Corea stood up against the wall, watching with a dazzled look, while Clarke draped his arms over his bass, smiling, and keeping his hands far from a playing position, but his eyes on the drummer. Then, at a seemingly unremarkable but evidently perfect moment, Corea and Clarke leaped into the song -- just one more thrilling connection in a night of many.
Michelle, everyone's belle: After saying hello and introducing the band -- and seemingly apropos of nothing -- DeJohnette bellowed: "I just have one thing to say: Michelle, right!" It took us a second to figure out he was talking about the First Lady's speech at the Democratic National Convention. "Michelle!" he implored, as the crowd cheered. "She rocked!"
Neckcersize: Look around the room during the uptempo sections of last night's set, and you'd see about 200 heads -- some of them covered in gray hair -- nodding forcefully. This is the standard jazz body movement, and appropriately so: There's no real way to dance sitting down (even if you could dance to such shifting tempos), and the forward-and-back (or side-to-side) head movements seemed to imply a kind of mystified awe that was entirely appropriate for the show last night.
By the way: A friend we took who knows more about jazz than we do says this was the best jazz show he's ever seen. So there.