ECM Records is on a reissuing ROLL! This one just might be the king of the litter. What they’ve done is put together into one multi-cd disc package the first four cooking releases by the rotating collection known as the Special Edition. Starting with 1979’s debut, we get Tin Can Alley, Inflation Blues and Album Album, which was recorded back in 1984. The revolving door of artists is akin to a left of center Who’s Who: David Murray/ts-bcl, Arthur Blythe/as, Chico Freeman/ts-fl-bcl, John Purcell/reeds, Howard Johnson/bs-tuba, Rufus Reid/b, Peter Warren/b-cel and Baikida Carrroll/tp weave in and out like characters in an Agatha Christie mystery. But there’s no mystery here, as the music is still as swinging and exciting as when it first came out-no small fete.
The fact of the matter is that this band was one of the few that successfully combined the swing of mainstream jazz with the experimental ears of the free jazz movement. Pieces like “Zoot Suite” and “Riff Raff” included incessantly infectious melodies, but with an extra kick of turmeric in the harmonies, as well as some searching solos. On the other hand, a take of a hard bop ballad like “Central Park West” or “Monk’s Mood” a filled with rich and intriguing harmonies by the reeds, while John Coltrane’s “India” delivers intriguing interplay between piano, and bass clarinet. Reid’s deep groove on “Tin Can Alley” is fertile soil for Blythe’s stalk of an alto solo, while swaying saxes on “I Know” harken to 50s R&B. Through it all, DeJohnette uses his sticks to conduct the music and handle the speeds and directions like an NYC traffic cop, delivering fiery furnaces of heat on “Ahmed the Terrible,” incessant exotica on “The Gri Gri Man” or delivering a gentle rice pilaf of a bed as on the floating “Pastel Rhapsody.” This is creative music at its zenith