This terrific four-disc collection brings together DeJohnette’s various Special Edition bands between 1979 and 1984 – a period featurung the most broad-based and ambitious composing he has ever attempted. Earthy horn-voicings drawn from Duke Ellington and Charles Mings, and wild free-jazz, raw-rock blues are framed in complex arrangements that suggested miniature orchestras: the Ellingtonesque flute counterpoint of Pastel Rhapsody; the edgier woodwind, brass, bass and percussion on Inflation Blues. Saxophonists Arthur Blythe, David Murray, Chico Freeman and John Purcell span the spectrum from post-Parker bebop to fiery chordless improv. DeJohnette’s own playing is thrilling in its mix of subtle textures and battering dynamism – his solo-drums display on The Gri Gri Man is sensational.
John Fordham, The Guardian
...his best work feels flush with anticipation, as if he were stepping to the plate for the first time. Special Edition, a changeable band most active in the 1980s, captured that feeling especially well on the four albums it released on ECM: ‘Special Edition’, ‘Tin Can Alley’, ‘Inflation Blues’ and ‘Album Album’. Now packaged as a boxed set, these recordings exude toughness and exuberance, along with a limber equilibrium. Working with two or three saxophonists (including David Murray and Chico Freeman, at different times), and doubling himself on piano or melodica, Mr. DeJohnette combined avant-garde combustion with a cool lyrical instinct.
Nate Chinen, The New York Times
Described neatly by one critic quoted in the booklet notes as’Afro-centric experimentalism’, these four albums represent a leap forward for a musician whose instrumental skills had thus far been largely deployed in bringing other leaders’ music to life. DeJohnette’s rise as a composer and arranger during this period planted a flag in the territory of the sound of surprise – remind yourself of the marvellous riffy hooks in ‘Ahmad the Terrible’ and ‘Ebony’, for example – that’s never been displaced. Highly recommended.
Roger Thomas, BBC Music Magazine
The four adventurous freewheeling albums offer all the proof you need of his mastery of composition as well as the drums. […] At the core of each album is a dynamic dialogue between two top-class saxophonists (David Murray, Arthur Blythe, Chico Freeman among them) .Their explorations of swing, free jazz, fusion, reggae and all points in between sound as fresh as ever.
John Bungey, The Times
While every track is very much a ‘conversation among equals’ (making the whole collection a perfect example of ‘chamber music by other means’), DeJohnette never holds back on his own inventiveness behind his drum set. Indeed, beyond the drums themselves, his compositions are all distinguished by the rhythmic eccentricities of their melodic lines. This is very much music for the attentive listener, and ECM has done a great service in gathering this particular facet of DeJohnette’s creativity into a single package.
Stephen Smoliar, Examiner.com