LP REVIEW: Jack DeJohnette, solo piano - 'Return'

LP review: Jack DeJohnette, solo piano - Return
(Newvelle Records, vinyl only: NV002LP. LP review by Geoff Winston)

Jack DeJohnette's first-ever solo piano album, Return, is a beautiful record in every sense, and, in DeJohnette's words, 'one of the best musical endeavours I've ever done.'

Inspired by the approach from evangelising vinyl perfectionists, Newvelle Records a new composition opens each side of the LP. One is dedicated to Erik Satie, setting a tranquil, thoughtful mood, and the other, Dervish Trance, takes its cue from the whirling dances of Sufi dervishes. With seven pieces from DeJohnette's songbook revisited in a deeply illuminating manner, and one from Milton Nascimento to put the seal on the sequence, the listening experience is a pure delight.

DeJohnette is known foremost as the lynchpin drummer with jazz luminaries including Keith Jarrett, Miles Davis and Bill Evans and is ECM's longest established artist, yet he started out as a pianist. This was the starting point for Newvelle's co-founder, pianist Elan Mehler, whose formative live jazz experience was the Gateway Trio of DeJohnette, Dave Holland and John Abercrombie, including a piano sequence from the drummer.

Return is the label's second release, available only as one of their subscription package of six releases over a year, and is a connoisseur venture through and through. From the consistency of their elegantly designed, oversize gatefold sleeves with a curated monochrome cover photo from the legendary Bernard Plossu's portfolio and a poem selected for the inner sleeve from Pulitzer Prize-winner, Tracey K Smith, the tone is set. And when the clear vinyl LP hits the turntable, the result is stunning.

'One of the things that I love about vinyl is that it slows you down,' says Mehler, and what comes through overridingly on DeJohnette's playing is the slow power of his compositions and the rare privilege of a revealing insight into the musician's creative meanderings, uniquely captured as he plays.

As co-founder, Jean-Christophe Morisseau explains, 'We want to achieve the best at every level of the chain. The artist, the studio, the engineer, the mastering, the pressing.' Newvelle's recording is in the expert hands of Marc Urselli at East Side Studios in Manhattan where, he explains, 'I use mostly vintage and some tube microphones, all analogue and some tube pre-amps … the sound is never converted to digital within the mixing console.'

The pressings are made at top pressing plant, MPO, about 200km west of Newvelle's Paris base - and with the bar set impeccably high with Newvelle's first release, Frank Kimbrough's Meantime, mastered by Scott Hull in New York, DeJohnette's is the perfect follow-on.

Recorded on a nine foot Fazioli grand which Herbie Hancock and Geri Allen raved about to Dejohnette, the sound is extraordinary. As his lyrical peregrinations of rediscovery unwrap hidden layers from well-travelled pieces such as Lydia, lovingly dedicated to his wife, and Silver Hollow, celebrating his home in upstate New York, there is an extra depth and warmth to the sound quality that surpasses even the expectation that vinyl brings with it.

As Mehler puts it, 'The Fazioli flashes clarity in parts of the register that are uncharted on most pianos.' And sound engineer, Urselli, working with every nuance in DeJohnette's playing, maintains lingering decays to bring out the feeling of being in the presence of the most intimate and personal of solo recitals.

This really is a very special record, a desert island disc.

LINK: Newvelle Records

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