RIP Jon Christensen

Jon Christensen might have been the first European drummer to influence the New York jazz musicians. His charismatic performances were captured on dozens of ECM albums by Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, Enrico Rava, Miroslav Vitous, Arild Andersen, Bobo Stenson, and many others. With the European Quartet of Keith Jarrett, Christensen was heard everywhere by everyone.

The first track on the 1971 debut Terje Rypdal, “Keep It Like That/Tight,” features loose groove drumming from a cubist perspective, almost as if Paul Motian was taking on funk, but I don’t know if even Motian had gotten all the way there yet by 1971.

On Keith Jarrett’s Belonging (1974) is “Long As You Know You Living Yours,” a straight up acoustic gospel anthem, with Christensen working a closed hi-hat and snare with relaxed finesse.  It’s not far from something Jack DeJohnette might have played — surely both DeJohnette and Christensen loved Levon Helm — but Christensen is a bit straighter, yet totally at ease, with tiny surreal moments that come and go almost before you notice. He smoothly builds with Garbarek and the band, then goes to the bell of the ride cymbal for the piano interlude and diminuendo. Yeah, baby.

Ralph Towner’s Solstice (1975) begins with “Oceanus,” where Christensen’s double-time swing ride cymbal works in chattering counterpoint with doleful melodies and romantic harmonies by Towner, Garbarek, and Eberhard Weber. You want to know what the ECM sound is? This is the ECM sound — and it would be unthinkable without Christensen’s driving yet evocative brass.

Thank you Jon Christensen for your monumental contribution.