Jason Jackson: "Inspiration" (Jack & Hill/Planet Arts) 2014
Rating: ***** (musical performance & sonic quality)
Recorded @ Capitol Studio A (Los Angeles, CA; engineered by Hank Cicalo), Clinton Studio A (New York, NY; by Gary Chester), and Jack&Hill Recording Studio (South Orange, NJ; by Jason Jackson)
Mixed @ Sear Sound (New York, NY) by Gary Chester
Mastered @ Arf! Digital (New York, NY) by Alan Silverman
Hip, hip, hip!!! What a classy, lush and sumptuous album! Its natural refinement puts Jason Jackson's "Inspiration" in the same company of such great albums from the late 70s as Dexter Gordon's "Sophisticated Giant" (btw, arranged by Slide Hampton, one of the very special guests on Jason's CD) and Woody Shaw's "Rosewood." The elegant sound of Jackson's trombone is pure velvet, combined with a perfect articulation and a highly creative phrasing of astonishing fluency. My new musical hero now belongs to my list of all-time favorite trombonists, alongside Urbie Green, Frank Rosolino, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Tommy Dorsey, Slide Hampton, Bill Watrous, Raul de Souza, Jim Pugh and Bill Reichenbach.
In an era of so many sterile jazz albums (I usually receive around 100 jazz CDs per month, and 90% of them sound uninteresting to me, mere exercises in technique, acrobatics and useless ego-trips), "Inspiration" is a true musical oasis. The repertoire and the arrangements (mostly by Jason himself) are simply wonderful, complementing Jackson's flawless statements that are backed by a large all-star cast of sidemen. What a joy to see so many LA legends such as Ray Pizzi (one of Moacir Santos' favorite reedmen), Don Shelton, Gary Foster, Pete Christlieb, Bill Watrous, George Bohanon (an unsung trombone master), Marshall Hawkins and the late Mike Melvoin and John Guerin (the drummer on some of my favorite albums by Michael Franks and Claus Ogerman) playing together in the two tracks that were recorded years ago at the legendary Capitol Studio -- Richard Rodgers' haunting ballad "Spring Is Here," arranged by soundtrack master Eddie Karam, and Jason's own "My Friend Sam" (hot solos by the leader and tenorist Christlieb), a tune that showcases Jason Jackson's ability to make new themes sound like standards at the first listening, like Benny Golson does.
The remaining eight tracks were recorded in NY, with the ensembles including Bill Easley, Ralph Lalama, Gary Smulyan, Ron Tooley, Luis Bonilla, Rufus Reid, Dennis Mackrel, Monte Croft and many others. The title of the opener, "Brazilian Bop," says it all, featuring the leader, Slide Hampton and altoist Dick Oatts in a sambop propelled by percussionist Roger Squitero, who uses congas, a shaker and, lower in the mix, an Afro-Brazilian instrument called agogo. Evan Christopher does the clarinet solo on his own "El Huesero," and trumpeter Roy Hargrove excels in the fantastic (and very challenging) score -- built upon complex latin polyrhythmic structures -- to Vernon Duke's "April in Paris," which also features tenorist Rich Perry, and Squitero dueling with himself on congas & bongos. Another standard, "Tenderly," is pure romance and sophistication, with the leader flying & floating over a forest of woodwinds, strings and vibraphone, while the Spanish-tinged "Salute To Mandela" and the burning "Wake Up Election 2000" are both epic themes featuring trumpeter Terell Stafford. One of the best albums of the year.
With the release of Inspiration, the second CD to appear under his name and first new one in 13 years, Jason Jackson emerges as a jazz master whose gifts as a composer and arranger match his virtuosity as a trombonist. His inspired combination of horns, strings, and rhythm is quite unlike anything else being recorded these days. The new disc will be released October 14 by Jack & Hill Music (the label venture he operates with his vocalist wife Rosena Hill Jackson) in association with Planet Arts.