There are many possible 'correct' answers to the question What makes a jazz drummer interesting?" Groove? Yes. Chops? Maybe. For me, it all boils down to musicality.
Some drummers are able to move their instrument beyond the timekeeping role to take on a more primary responsibility in the music-making process. They don't just help to support and propel the music: they are the music. Spend a little time with Black Codes From The Underground-era Jeff Tain" Watts or any of Joey Baron's amazing Masada work and you'll see what I'm gettin' at. While power and groove are surely a part of the music, those guys manage to squeeze out every last bit of melodic juice and nuance from their kits to serve and enhance the music.
The king of melodic drummers has to be Jack DeJohnette. There's just something about the way he constructs a groove. It's slinky and minimal, never over-reaching. Those ultra-dry ride cymbals dance around the composition, drawing it together ... making it stronger.
What's amazing is that DeJohnette's style fits so neatly into so many sub-genres of jazz. Just take a look at this (incomplete) list of jazz greats he's played with: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Lloyd, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Gary Peacock. An amazing list of musicians.
This personally-selected ECM 'greatest hits' package reflects the diversity found in the above list. DeJohnette's very first ECM recording is represented ("Overture" and Communion" from Ruta & Daitya) as well as the modern" era: Jack In" from 1997's Oneness. Other DeJohnette groups appearing in the tracklist are Special Edition, Gateway (with guitarist John Abercrombie and bassist Dave Holland) and, my favorite, New Directions: John Abercombie (guitar), Eddie Gomez (bass) and Lester Bowie (trumpet).
But wait ... there's more!
What some people may not know about Jack DeJohnette is that he's also a fine pianist. He began studying the instrument at the age of four. His piano work is featured on the New Directions composition Silver Hollow" and on the solo piece Picture 6."
There are many reasons why Jack DeJohnette has appeared on more ECM recordings than any other musician. One listen through the eight compositions offered on :rarum XII an you'll understand.