In the course of his long career, drummer Jack DeJohnette has played with almost all the major figures of American improvisation, including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Charles Lloyd, Chet Baker, and Keith Jarrett, and has helped change the music at crucial points in its evolution. He was active in free jazz at the birth of the AACM movement in Chicago, powered Miles Davis through the dawn of electric jazz circa Bitches Brew , and was virtually "house drummer" at ECM through the 1970s and early 80s, appearing on numerous sessions with Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny, Kenny Wheeler, John Surman, Ralph Towner, John Abercrombie, Terje Rypdal, Dave Holland, Gary Peacock, Collin Walcott, George Adams and many others. All these experiences have served to fuel his own "multi-directional" bands, of which Oneness is the latest and, arguably, the most complete in its all-embracing range of references. If the eclecticism of earlier DeJohnette groups derived partly from the leader's contrasting of the styles of individual musicians (for example, Lester Bowie with John Abercrombie in the New Directions band, or David Murray with Arthur Blythe in Special Edition), all the members of Oneness share DeJohnette's utopian vision of music's universality. Each of them draws upon an unusually comprehensive musical history; each of them hesitates to describe his music as, exclusively, "jazz", all respect to the tradition duly acknowledged. DeJohnette: "As a child, I listened to all kinds of music and I never put them into categories. I studied classical piano and listened to jazz, opera, country & western, rhythm and blues, swing, whatever. I've kept that integrated feeling about music and carried it with me in spite of this habitual repetition to try and keep people pinned down to a certain style."
The potential of two drummers working together was first emphasised for the bandleader in the mid-60s. When he played with Coltrane, he partnered Rashied Ali. "It's a collective sound you're going for," DeJohnette told Jazz Times, "it's like you hear a whole tribe of people singing something: collective energy." In Miles's band, DeJohnette traded ideas and sounds with a shifting cast of percussionists, including on On The Corner , an ambitious polystylistic undertaking its own right, Don Alias. A more recent reunion of the drummers on Herbie Hancock's The New Standard project indicated that their percussive alliance had lost none of its potency; their tessellated, interlocking accents give the Oneness band its throbbing heart. Together, Jack and Don introduce the band with a celebratory "Welcome Blessing" on this ECM album. Alias's numerous credits include work with Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Chick Corea, Tony Williams, Charlie Haden, Joe Lovano and Carla Bley. The emphasis on hand drums in the new band extends the concept of "earth rhythms" that DeJohnette sketched out on his previous ECM disc Dancing with Nature Spirits.
Pianist Michael Cain was introduced to ECM listeners on the aforementioned Nature Spirits, which led in turn to his own leader date debut on ECM, Circa ("sparkling chamber jazz" - Down Beat), released early in 1997. Cain, however, has been associated with DeJohnette since 1990 and his been a member of almost all the drummer's own projects since then, including the Special Edition band. He has also toured extensively with Dewey Redman and played with, amongst others, Dave Holland, John Scofield, and Vernon Reid. His gravitation toward DeJohnette's bands was all but inevitable. At 31, the youngest member of the band, Cain envisaged a multi-directional music with jazz as its centrepoint from a very young age. He studied jazz and classical music at North Texas State University, and further classical research at the University of Southern California was followed by graduate research at CalArts, where he investigated the musics of Ghana, Bali and India as well as traditional western forms. Elements of all these musics have found their way into Cain's writing and improvising.
The versatile Jerome Harris began his tenure with Sonny Rollins's group as an electric bassist and in the course of a decade with the master saxophonist became the band's guitar player. Rollins sessions of the late 80s, such as Falling In Love With Jazz and Here's To The People, brought him together with DeJohnette, in whose Oneness ensemble he plays both his instruments. Harris has played furthermore with Bill Frisell, George Russell, Amina Claudine Myers, Bob Moses, Hank Roberts, Bob Stewart, Mark Helias. He has also recorded as a leader; his own groups have included Ray Anderson, Marty Ehrlich, Jay Hoggard, Bobby Previte and others.