Audiences who first came to know Javon Jackson through his recordings for Criss Cross and Blue Note shouldn't be the least bit surprised when the Joe Henderson-inspired tenor saxophonist, who first came to prominence with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, releases a commercially conscious disc like Now. As with his previous efforts for Palmetto Records, 2003's Easy Does It and 2005's Have You Heard, Now focuses on listener-friendly grooves while emphasizing the strengths of the top-tier musicians involved.
From the opening rocked-out grind of "In the Sticks" to the mellow Brazilian vibe of the closing "I Remember You," Jackson applies his robust sound to emphasize every note with a distinctive blend of edginess and clarity. On "Love Calls" and "Where is the Love," Jackson relies on a leaner approach with Grover Washington Jr. overtones. The latter, a duet with vocalist Lisa Fischer on the classic R&B hit finds the saxophonist emulating Donny Hathaway's sultry vocal style to match Fischer's stunning take on Roberta Flack.
As a composer Jackson has a penchant for simplified melodies and forms with hooks that are predictable, yet wonderfully infectious. His three contributions to the session, "In the Sticks," "South Side Eddie" and "Richard's R.A.P." are intriguing and energetic.
Eclectic guitarist David Gilmore is an essential component to the diverse nature of Now. It's inspiring to hear a guitarist jump from one genre to another in such a personalized manner. The influences of guitar masters such as George Benson and Mike Stern seem to meld together naturally to form a sound that is uniquely Gilmore.
Hammond organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith brings an element of sophistication and grease to the disc. The Turbanator is characteristically tasteful on "In the Sticks," "South Side Eddie" and "I Remember You."
The insatiable rhythm duo of Kenny Davis on electric bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums intensifies each groove to inspired heights. Davis, who appeared on Jackson's previous Palmetto releases, creates a heavy thumping rumble on "Fun Time." Hutchinson, best known for his straight approach with Ray Brown and others, proves himself a bona fide funk master.
Perhaps most convincing about Now is the unbridled fun that Jackson and his cohorts seem to be having. While some elements of the music are overly contrived, the open interplay and engaging performances make for an enjoyable listen.
Personnel: Javon Jackson: tenor saxophone; David Gilmore: electric guitar; Kenny Davis: electric bass; Greg Hutchinson: drums; Dr. Lonnie Smith: organ; Lisa Fischer: vocals (3, 5, 8).