Jack DeJohnette has been a important presence on ECM since 1971 when, with fellow Miles Davis alumnus Keith Jarrett, he recorded the duo album Ruta and Daitya. In the interim he has appeared on around 40 albums for the label, a sprawling discography of vastly divergent music in and out of the jazz tradition. In the last decade, most of his work for ECM has been with Jarrett's immensely popular "Standards" trio. 1995, however , saw the reactivation of Gateway, the band Jack co-directs with Dave Holland and John Abercrombie, which recorded two new albums. The first of these was released as Homecoming (ECM 1562) last autumn, and volume two, an album of collective improvisations, is in preparation. Meanwhile, Dancing with Nature Spirits is a bona fide "leader" date for the drummer - his first in this capacity for ECM since 1982's Inflation Blues.
DeJohnette's trio with Michael Cain and Steve Gorn was launched last year, the drummer positing an "atmospheric" band, strong on what he called "healing" rhythms to "bring back the tribal aspect of interaction between musician and listener". "Tribal" considerations had been much on DeJohnette's mind, partly the result of his studies of Native American lore, a consuming interest in recent years. Although the album's title and individual track titles testify to that influence the trio's music has been all but reinvented in the concentrated focus of the session; the result is a powerful recording, distinguished by often fiery group interplay. The spirits invoked are frequently of the elemental variety: forces of nature, unleashed. The disc's freest moments remind us, too, that DeJohnette's all-embracing "roots" also extend to a period of heady experimentation with the early AACM.
Michael Cain and Steve Gorn make their ECM debut with this recording, although Cain has been a member of DeJohnette's Special Edition band since 1990. A jazz player from the age of 10, Cain majored in jazz at North Texas State University, studied classical music at the University of Southern California and received a masters degree in music from the California Institute of the Arts, where he specialized in the music of Ghana, Bali and India and began to develop an improvisational style influenced by both western art music and non-western forms, as well as by the masters of jazz piano. On the West Coast he worked with drummers Billy Higgins and Billy Hart, flutist James Newton, singer Marlena Shaw and others, in New York he was closely associated with members of Brooklyn's M-Base collective, including Robin Eubanks, Greg Osby and Lonnie Plaxico. Parallel to his work with DeJohnette, he has toured extensively with bassist Anthony Cox in a quartet featuring Dewey Redman and Billy Higgins. Other artists with whom he has played include Dave Holland, John Scofield, Art Lande, Steve Swallow, Vernon Reid, Oliver Lake and Reggie Workman. Michael Cain has released three albums as a leader, the first of these featuring Glen Velez on hand drums.
Reedman Steve Gorn, who has also recorded with Velez, was schooled in European classical music and jazz before he began travelling widely to learn more about the musical traditions of the non-Western world. There were extended stopovers in Indonesia and Japan and, in India, Gorn took up the notoriously difficult bansuri, the seven-holed bamboo flute, after being accepted as a disciple of, and concert accompanist for, the Hindustani bansuri master Sri Gour Goswani. He has come to be considered one of the few westerners able adequately to address the nuances of Indian classical music. His transcultural endeavours have included collaborations with Don Cherry, Karl Berger, Badal Roy, Nana Vasconcelos, Robert Dick, Trilok Gurtu and David Torn.
Jack DeJohnette has long made occasional use of congas as an additional colour in his percussive palette - there are plenty of examples in his ECM discography (see Tin Can Alley, The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon, Ruta And Daitya etc.), but an increasing engagement with music of other cultures has brought about a renewed attention to the hand drum. On Dancing With Nature Spirits, he turns his attention, on several cuts, to the new generation of electronic hand drums, in particular the so-called wave drum, a touch- and pressure-sensitive instrument that gives him access to the sonorities of, for example, the tabla, the water drum and the berimbau. His kit drums, of course, are also to the fore throughout, and his "floating" approach to the drums and shifting cymbal accents - as a cymbalist he has few equals - are very well matched with Cain's starkly percussive piano playing, whose angularity seems related more to Monk than to Evans's end of the modern jazz continuum.