Tap dancer Savion Glover and drummer Jack DeJohnette will have an intense conversation Friday at the Wharton Center.
Make that a cosmic conversation. Possibly the greatest tap dancer in the world and one of the greatest drummers in jazz (or music) history have a major gravity ripple going, and you don’t need laser interferometry to detect it.
“I consider him to be like the (John) Coltrane of contemporary tap,” DeJohnette said. “Savion is beyond tap. He is a complete musician, and that’s what makes him different.”
“He’s allowed me to understand the area of cosmic consciousness,” Glover vibrated back. “I’m in love with the guy."
In completely improvised duets, Glover and DeJohnette penetrate the history and mystery of rhythmic communication, from primal whacking and fatback grooves to the most delicate shades of emotion and abstract realms of thought.
“If people are coming in anticipating something, they’re in for a surprise,” Glover said. “We don’t even know what we’re going to do.”
Glover has advice for jazz aficionados who are coming mainly to hear DeJohnette and may not be familiar with tap dancing.
“Be ready to become familiar,” he said. DeJohnette sees no significant difference between the two arts.
“They’re the same thing,” he said. “It’s all rhythm.”
The arts of drumming and dancing followed similar paths in 20th century America. In jazz, drumming evolved from the rudimentary time-keeping of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Seven through swing, bebop and avant-garde styles to the endlessly changing textures and patterns of DeJohnette’s many projects.
Tap dancing is catching up. Glover, 42, has taken the art into new worlds of timbre and rhythm.
“My approach to dance is similar to how a musician might approach his or her instrument,” Glover said. “I choose when it’s percussive, melodic, woodwind or what have you. It’s left up to my imagination — what I want to interpret or be at the time.”
Who else would think of “woodwind” dancing?
Athletic daring and an omnivorous musical mind are Glover’s most potent weapons. In “STePz,” his 2013 show at New York’s Joyce Theater, he danced to music from Coltrane, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Dmitri Shostakovich.
His forays with DeJohnette go beyond anything that’s written down.
“It’s free music,” Glover said. “At sound check, he may have a song he wants to work out, but there’s no preconceived approach. The nature of the music is improvisational, as is the nature of my dancing.”
“Our performances are dynamic,” De- Johnette said. “There are ebbs and flows and crescendos, plenty of space for people to catch their breath.”
Friday’s concert will focus on the interplay between Glover and DeJohnette, with a few variations on the duet format. Glover will be joined by dancer Marshall Davis Jr., one of his collaborators on “STePz” and on Glover’s first big success, “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.” DeJohnette calls on his current trio mates, pianist/ trumpeter George Colligan and bassist/ guitarist Jerome Harris.
“They will contribute greatly to the dynamics,” DeJohnette said.
Glover and DeJohnette have been working together on and off for about five years — with an early exception in 1989.
“When (Glover) was 16, I did a Young People’s Concert with him and (bassist) Ron Carter and (pianist) Geri Allen at Carnegie Hall,” DeJohnette recalled.
One of their more remarkable recent concerts was a coruscating duet at the June 20 funeral of American music giant Ornette Coleman.
“It was quite an intense moment,” Glover said. “It was like a performing condolence. People comment about that all the time. That was one of those moments that was just left in the space. I don’t remember much about it.”
DeJohnette, 73, is a jazz legend with roots going back to Chicago’s avant-garde scene in the mid-1960s. In the early 1960s, he sat in for a night with John Coltrane’s classic quartet, filling in for Elvin Jones at a Chicago club.
He has worked with almost every major jazz artist of his time, including a seminal late ‘60s stint with Miles Davis. He was the main drummer on Davis’ landmark “Bitches Brew” album. The album was a turning point in Davis’ career — and a turning point in jazz — when the trumpeter was charting a course into a churning nebula of electric funk.
In the ‘70s, when Davis wanted to shift to more groove-based music, DeJohnette left.
“Jack could play drums like a motherfucker in a groove,” Davis wrote of De- Johnette, “but he also wanted to do other things, play a little freer, be a leader, do things his own way.”
Since then, DeJohnette has gone in dozens of musical directions, from his critically acclaimed Special Edition group to stints with pianists Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea and guitarist Bill Frisell. For his 2012 “Sound Travels” album, DeJohnette threw himself at a phalanx of today’s top young musicians, including bassist Esperanza Spalding and pianist Jason Moran.
In his autobiography, Davis put De- Johnette in sublime company.
“When you work with great musicians, they are always a part of you,” Davis wrote. “People like Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Bird, Diz, Jack DeJohnette, Philly Joe (Jones).”
To Glover, that’s where DeJohnette belongs.
“The ginormity of his contribution is beyond my comprehension,” Glover said, “What he’s done, not only to the free music that you know to be jazz, but what he’s done for the culture, through music.”
Glover called their relationship a “learning” one.
“Whenever I’m in the presence of any one of these great masters, there’s a huge sense of trust that is shared and expressed,” he said. “I go back and forth from student to comrade to additional instrument.”
DeJohnette worked in a final shimmer on the high hat.
“It’s about co-creative interplay, with love and respect,” he said. “It’s always fresh.”
An evening with Savion Glover and Jack DeJohnette
8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19 Tickets start at $28/$15 students Wharton Center 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing (517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com