Picks and Pans Review: Music for the Fifth World

updated 06/14/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/14/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jack Dejohnette

One of the world's most forceful and imaginative drummers, Dejohnette, 50, easily could have made another sleek, attractively muscular jazz-rock album like 1991's Earth-walk. Instead, he went a little nuts. Fifth World is part heavy metal, part jazz, part Native American ritual.

Five of Fifth World's nine songs are built around Native American chants (mostly in the Seneca tongue). But DeJohnette's hunger to combine took him further: He enlisted drummer Will Calhoun and guitarist Vernon Reid from the (extra) hard-rock band Living Colour, plus innovative jazz guitarist John Scofield. It's remarkable that this hybrid jells at all, but for the most part it potently synthesizes steel and clay, the electronic and the handmade.

On "Fifth World Anthem," a vocal choir soars, joyous and slightly ragtag, over Dejohnette's and Calhoun's boiling drums. The singers sound like an avant-garde cheerleading squad. On "Miles," the group could be one of Ornette Coleman's electric bands: dual guitars skittering on top, drums thundering below, the whole at once static and propulsive.

"Deception Blues" is musically strong, lyrically trite ("...poor people cry out in frustration/Against a sad situation"); Dejohnette's language is inadequate for his social outrage. "Two Guitar Chant" is Fifth World's most successful merger of Native American with jazz, the voices surfing over a streamlined fusion groove. And on "Aboriginal Dream Time," the whole multicultural gang ambles into the sunset, a merry, noisy crew aboard some demilitarized 21st-century Road Warrior jalopy. (Manhattan)

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