Sound Travels is many things: It’s a celebration of Jack DeJohnette turning 70 and being named an NEA Jazz Master in 2012; it’s an updated tour of some of the vast musical landscape traversed in his career; and it’s a chance for him to play – piano as well as drums – with a hand-picked ensemble that purposefully includes some of his favorite younger musicians.
For a collection this lighthearted and variegated, it still packs a surprising musical punch. Among the memorable moments are DeJohnette and percussionist Luisito Quintero trading licks after Esperanza Spaulding’s wafting vocal on “Salsa For Luisito;” the way trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire seems to suspend time on a compelling stop-and-go solo of fiery power during “New Muse;” the galvanizing guitar solo by Lionel Loueke on a DeJohnette-penned calypso tribute to saxophonist Sonny Rollins on “Sonny Light;” and pianist Jason Moran’s ability to energize and uplift “Indigo Dreamscapes” without ruffling the ethereal fabric of the tune. (Alas, it’s Moran’s lone contribution to Sound Travels.)
Along with Spaulding’s turn on “Salsa,” there are two other vocal tracks, both standouts. “Dirty Ground” is a 7/4 slab of funk equally inspired by New Orleans and the Band, with DeJohnette playing those familiar, galomping accents forever associated with the Band’s Levon Helm, while Bruce Hornsby provides the lyrics and vocals. The third and final sung song is actually a spellbinding feat of vocalese by Bobby McFerrin, in conjunction with Quintero and DeJohnette, on “Oneness,” a song that first appeared on a Gateway Trio disc back in the ’90s. McFerrin’s execution is immaculate, conjuring the ineffable yet potent ambiance of spirituality. It fits well with the two DeJohnette piano solos that bracket the album, especially the closing “Home,” which DeJohnette rightly likens to the South African master of gospel-blues serenity, Abdullah Ibrahim.