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The two Eexemplars of longevity sharing the frontline on this new Delmark disc already held elder statesmen status at the time of the music's taping. Both saxophonists are part of the vibrant Chicago tenor lineage that includes Von Freeman, Johnny Griffin, and Fred Anderson. Trumpeter Yves Francois organized the sessions to redress a slight he perceived to their respective careers. At the time of the early-'80s conclaves, Jackson had rarely recorded. When he did, it was mainly as a trad jazz clarinetist. Johnson's situation was even more aggrieved. Despite several decades in the business, the first of these dates constituted his debut in the studio.
Jackson and Johnson present an odd couple on paper. The former wears the badge of a Bean disciple, favoring the forthright demeanor and virile tone that were hallmarks of Coleman Hawkins' constitution, even on tender ballads. Johnson's debt is less conspicuous. More lubricious and even-tempered, his lines show a bit more bias toward Byas. The differences deploy boldly on the title track as the pair trade warm, billowing phrases that suspend in the studio air like cottony smoke rings. Both men exercise a stylistic breadth similar to the disc's dedicatee, versed in trad, swing, and bop vernaculars.
The songbook chosen by Francois fixates on jazz's first half century, celebrating the sort of R&B-influenced swing that was the norm on specialty labels like Apollo and United. Tunes like "Roll 'Em Pete and "Hot Harlem offer fitting fodder for the sort of congenial blowing preferred by the bands. Francois supplies concise, solo-friendly arrangements that tilt in favor of his estimable guests, further mirroring the sort of performances typical to classic urban labels. A handful of Dixielandish numbers also give voice to Jackson's full-bodied clarinet. Francois even allots space for a few vocal numbers, and Jackson's gruff inflection parallels his preferred intonation on horns. A detailed checklist included in the liners conveniently documents who says what and when.
Some might call it an egregious case of cheating, but Francois opts to excise the evidence of his greenhorn past and replace it with newly recorded solos that reflect an additional quarter century of experience on his horns. The tang and bite of the refurbished improvisations will likely silence any potential grousing on the part of listeners. The backing bands offer lively support; Odie Payne, a blues drummer by trade, is a bit distracting with his rock-influenced cadences. Francois' brother Marc Smierciak contributes more modernist section work on alto and tenor, while John Gorman serves as second chair brass, crafting savvy solos on trumpet and valve trombone.
At 92 and 84 respectively, Jackson and Johnson are still in the game and Delmark has recorded albums by each in the interim since those collected here. Even with corroborating platters in circulation, both men remain under-recognized for their stature and talent. Patron Saint of Saxophonists willing, this Francois reissue will remedy that neglect once and for all.
Track Listing: Lester Leaps In; Roll
Personnel: Yves Francois- trumpet & flugelhorn; John Gorman- trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone; Franz Jackson- alto & tenor saxophones, vocal; Eddie Johnson- tenor saxophone; Marc Smierciak- alto & tenor saxophone; Joe Johnson- piano; Jeff Lindahl- bass; Ken Voelker- drums; Eric Haggard- drums; Odie Payne, Jr.- drums; Sharon Waltham- vocal; Stan Warren- alto & tenor saxophone; Carcl Silberman- clarinet, baritone saxophone; Andy Johnson- piano; John Knecht- conga. Recorded: 3/23 & 3/31/81, 1/27/82 & 9/86.
I was first exposed to jazz while learning to play chess with my uncles. They would play smooth jazz, and then switch up to more standard types of jazz. But, when they played Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, I was
hooked and I haven't looked back.