Jack DeJohnette – Zebra (1986)

Like many others, I fall into creative blocks from time to time. Amplified even more so by periods of lockdown and isolation as a result of the pandemic, it can be easy to lose sight of one's source of inspiration or curiosity during these blocks.

In an attempt to remedy this for myself, I've been coming back to the work of Jack DeJohnette, a personal hero of mine as a musician and overall person. The more I dig through his work, the more I realize the extent to which the magnitude of his artistry reaches far beyond his recognition as a go-to drummer in jazz. While he has played alongside major figures in jazz over the course of his musical career, his work has also always been entrenched in continuous experimentation - spanning across some more avant-garde leaning outfits and solo projects, all of which are gems among his long list of credits. 

One of these gems is "Zebra", a collection of five pieces recorded as an accompanying soundtrack to a documentary by photographer Tadayuki Naitoh. Recorded in 1985, the music features Jack on the Siel DK-600 synthesizer alongside Lester Bowie on trumpet. DeJohnette's expansive, every-flowing feel of his drumming is captured here in the form of floating melodies and entrancing beats, in addition to some more spacey atmospheric moments. Meanwhile, Lester Bowie finds a way to improvise freely over top of the bed of synths and drums (interestingly enough, Bowie accompanied synthesizer on another mid-80s recording with Nobuyoshi Ino). On a whole, the music might not be considered a standout work from front to back, and the synths and drum programming will sound dated to most ears. For me, the joy of this record simply comes from hearing DeJohnette in a somewhat unconventional setting, yet still clearly in his element nonetheless.

- Miles