Reviews of INSPIRATION
“One of the best albums of the year, of the decade, and of this century.”
Instrumental Jazz CD of the Month – “Jason Jackson: Inspiration”
Jason Jackson: “Inspiration” (Jack & Hill/Planet Arts) 2014Rating: ***** (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 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, of the decade, and of this century.
“..not your run-of- the-mill big band session. Dense, rich ensembles serve as the setting for high-level soloists..”
Inspiration by Jason Jackson (Jack & Hill Music): With a string quartet on six tracks and a full string section on the other four, trombonist Jason Jackson’s current release is not your run-of- the-mill big band session. Dense, rich ensembles serve as the setting for high-level soloists including, in addition to Jackson himself, trumpeters Terell Stafford and Roy Hargrove, trombonist Slide Hampton, saxophonists Steve Wilson and Rich Perry, and bassist Rufus Reid.
August 25, 2014
“A stealth recording with serious Grammy potential!”
August 26, 2014
“Smashing, note perfect big band that can feel light as a feather while having the impact of a wrecking ball…”
JASON JACKSON/Inspiration: If we weren’t living in DIY times, you would have to call this set a diamond in the rough but since were all in it for ourselves these days, it’s good to see bone man Jackson knows how to do it right for himself. The top NYC session cat’s first solo set in over a dozen years finds him putting forth three session, each with a jazz orchestra populated by everybody. Zounds! This is what they were singing about when they said ‘ain’t it great to have friends?’. Smashing, note perfect big band that can feel light as a feather while having the impact of a wrecking ball, this is a feast of chops you can really gorge yourself in. Big band/jazz orchestra fans can rejoice. So can everyone, it’s as accessible all get out.
August 28, 2014
“Inspiration” is the sort of album that tends to turn up in the Grammy nominations for best large jazz ensemble. A model modern-mainstream, very New York, big band album where above all the dynamics are just right and size never overpowers it swings in all the right places, too.”
You might need a trip to Specsavers, no matter how good your eyesight is, to read the huge list of player credits in tiny print on the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra trombonist Jason Jackson’s new album. But you might be surprised if you do. Given that among the dozens and dozens of players lining up for these big band-with-strings sessions star names including Roy Hargrove and Gary Smulyan and the odd bona fide great (Slide Hampton) thrown in for good measure are nestling in some abundance. Inspiration is the sort of album that tends to turn up in the Grammy nominations for best large jazz ensemble. A model modern-mainstream, very New York, big band album where above all the dynamics are just right and size never overpowers it swings in all the right places, too. Jackson influenced by Tommy Dorsey and Urbie Green has a tone and touch that makes you feel you’re in safe hands when he takes the lead and the band know how to sit back or project where necessary. Released in the US on 14 October the trombonist’s strong track record includes long stints with Ray Charles and as a pit band player on Broadway, but his name is an unfamiliar one as a leader. A labour of love, more than half the tunes were written and arranged by the New York-based Californian fortysomething complemented by standards ‘Spring Is Here’,‘Tenderly’, the pick, and ‘April in Paris.’ A pleasant surprise.
September 9, 2014
“One can especially appreciate Jackson’s finely articulated trombone sonority and precision,…”
“This is a stellar performance by a trombone master who takes the nuances of his instrument seriously. Jackson attains a sonic beauty which is almost a lost art today.”
“The album contains many interesting variations of meter and sonority to sustain interest throughout. It is unflaggingly sensitive and well-structured,…”
Jason Jackson: Inspiration
Jason Jackson is an outstanding versatile and well-heeled New York-based trombonist. Somehow, you don’t hear his name mentioned along with peers like Robin Eubanks, Steve Turre, Steve Davis, John Fedchock, and Conrad Herwig. Perhaps that’s because Jackson plays first chair in big bands, studio work, and Broadway musicals. He doesn’t often link up with small groups or front his own, where musicians achieve their notoriety. In addition, his style represents the by now “classic” meld of swing, bebop, and post bop rather than being exhortative, exploratory, and experimental. He hones well-crafted improvisations within the legacy of one of his mentors, J.J. Johnson. And he is very good at it.
This album is an elaborate “production number,” assembled during several years of recording dates in various locations with big bands, three full studio orchestras, and soloists. Most of the arrangements are by Jackson himself, but some are by his colleagues, including the legendary trombonist Slide Hampton, who also performs. Jackson is doing what his mentor, “J.J.” loved to accomplish: surround himself with a large ensemble and work out the whole sound picture.
Except for its contrasting style of arrangements, this album could be thought of as a successor to Johnson’s Tangence (Verve, 1995) with the Robert Farnon Orchestra. Johnson/Farnon went for a lush, expressive sound, while Jackson combines lushness with sharp section work and, except for the ballads, a lively, swinging approach. The “inspiration” for Jackson’s arrangements largely comes from Jimmy Heath’s big band approach, along with film and Broadway influences. Jackson works especially well with Latin rhythms and styles. The album title “Inspiration” perhaps refers to Hampton, Johnson, and Heath, as well as Jackson’s experience in outstanding big bands such as the Dizzy GillespieAll-Stars and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, but also to the remarkable assemblage of great musicians on the recording, including the venerable saxophonist Dick Oatts, trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Terell Stafford, and bassist Rufus Reid, among many others of such caliber. For this recording, Jackson got the best of the best to work with him.
One can especially appreciate Jackson’s finely articulated trombone sonority and precision, both of which Johnson emphasized and which are in striking contrast to the funky sounds some trombonists think is “cool.” On faster numbers, like “Burnin,'” listen for Jackson’s rhythmic exactness, clear articulation, and carefully crafted improvisations. On the ballads, such as “Spring is Here” and “Tenderly,” his lucid tone rivals Urbie Green, and when he goes up to the high register, Tommy Dorsey. This is a stellar performance by a trombone master who takes the nuances of his instrument seriously. Jackson attains a sonic beauty which is almost a lost art today.
The arrangements for big band, orchestra, and soloists are almost all by Jackson, with additional contributions by Eddie Karam (“Spring is Here” and “My Friend Sam”), Evan Christopher (“El Huestro”) and Slide Hampton (“Tenderly”). Jackson told All About Jazz that he used overdubbing to execute the arrangements in studio situations at different places and times. The use of this technical feature, which is very common today, is fortunately seamless and unobtrusive, creating the impression of an ensemble working as a whole, with a wide, expansive sound. The Latin arrangements in “Brazilian Bop” and “El Huesero” are especially noteworthy for their finesse and sophistication. “April in Paris” plays with unusual rhythmic changes, which give the standard an Afro-Cuban feel. The listener naturally expects the Count Basie version and is surprised -and perhaps a bit perplexed -by the deconstruction of Basie’s swinging approach in order to obtain a unique “counter-Count” rendition. The album contains many interesting variations of meter and sonority to sustain interest throughout. It is unflaggingly sensitive and well-structured, echoing the great Tadd Dameron’s motto: “There is enough ugliness in the world; I’m interested in beauty.”
Personnel: (Soloists) Jason Jackson: trombone; Slide Hampton: trombone; Pete Christlieb: tenor saxophone; Rich Perry: tenor saxophone; Dick Oatts: alto saxophone, flute; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone; Evan Christopher: clarinet; Roy Hargrove: trumpet; Terelll Stafford: trumpet; Roger Jones: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Dennis Mackrel: drums.
September 16, 2014:
“Jackson’s solos throughout, especially on “Tenderly,” play equally well as separate jazz pieces and within an orchestral context, individually stunning and powerfully seamless as a part of the collective.”
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra sideman steps into spotlight with ‘Inspiration’
Jason Jackson’s new album boasts an orchestra so lavish, the bandleader and trombonist required three major sessions with a star-studded personnel numbering over 30 musicians each. Jackson’s Inspiration is his second album as a bandleader and the first to come out (Oct. 14) in 13 years on his and vocalist wife Rosena Hill’s record label, Jack & Hill Music in association with Planet Arts.
He and his famous friends put their personal stamp on the 10 elaborate, big band compositions in slick, sophisticated arrangements — half of which Jacksonpenned himself — for a new generation of listeners. Through the natural interaction of the New York City sideman with his educators and fellow performers, Jackson (Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band) was able to tap into the top jazz minds for this full-on updated orchestral romp: Roy Hargrove, Slide Hampton, Terell Stafford, Bill Watrous, Evan Christopher, Rich Perry, Pete Christlieb, Dick Oatts, Roger Jones II, Michael Melvoin, Rufus Reid, John Guerin, Roger Squitero, Dennis Mackrel, Eddie Karam, Steve Wilson. He spent 10 years pouring all of his creativity as a jazz and Broadway musician into this record.
Jackson brings an entire rhythm, string, and horn section to bear on moody, inspired pieces of jazz Americana. There is the Broadway (“Tenderly”), the marching parade (“Salute To Mandela”), the swanky, polyrhythmic, Afro-Cuban jazz nightclub (“April In Paris”), and the samba-montuno original, “Brazilian Bop.”
On the original compositions, Jackson makes room for all the groove necessary to get his core jazz chops across. “Burnin’” is exactly that, with each soloist laying down fruitful, musically correct, and artful challenges under a trombone-driven, jagged-jazzy melodic refrain.
Another original, “The Spot” calls attention to the jam sessions of the jazz sidemen’s interplay; their idea of letting loose, hanging out, and partying. “It’s where musicians have sort of a social gathering; otherwise we’re working all the time,” he explained in his August 12th press release. “It’s where we go to play and hone our skills and be inspired by each other’s ideas.” Listening to it is like sneaking in on a really cool jazz quartet’s rehearsal, two hours before going live. Pianist Roger Jones, bassist Rufus Reid, and Jackson ease into their solo interplays like old pros, comping one another’s shaken ruckus in an inherent forward movement, nice and easy, taking their sweet time.
“Salute To Mandela” has all the pomp and circumstances worthy of the late South African leader. The music is regal, with an enthralling sound of a Spanish bullfight through the horns, and a polished Afro-Cuban percussive track. The composition is by Daniel Jackson, arranged by Jason Jackson, and showcases the solos of the star and trumpeter Terell Stafford without an ounce of superfluous contact.
Jackson spends considerable time in the Broadway orchestra pit for Tony-award-winning musicals (The Color Purple, Motown The Musical, Wonderful Town, Nice Work If You Can Get It). That Broadway flair shows up frequently in his songs, including the swanky “Wake Up Election 2000” (his), “Spring Is Here” by Richard Rodgers/arranged by Eddie Karam, and Walter Gross’ movie-ready love story, “Tenderly,” arranged by fellow trombonist Slide Hampton to up the romance factor.
Jackson’s solos throughout, especially on “Tenderly,” play equally well as separate jazz pieces and within an orchestral context, individually stunning and powerfully seamless as a part of the collective. The mood he evokes always has a hint of passing fancies, as in “Tenderly.” It’s quite the romance of tragic, star-crossed lovers who get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet.