It's refreshing when a musician who has spent dues-paying years in the shadows, closer to anonymity than fame, makes the most out of the chance to stand front and center. It was clear that drummer Bruce Jackson loved being on the bandstand when he performed at the Jazz Gallery recently. His trio treated the audience to tunes from Don't Sleep On Your Dreams, a debut album with tunes culled from a cross-section of timeless composers.
Jackson's approach is to maintain the songs' original texture while providing just enough variations to give them new angles. Wayne Shorter's "Footprints, for example, is played at a slightly slower tempo, which allows the trio to linger at the song's subtle edges. When Jackson, pianist Bob Himmelberger and bassist Nicolas Bayak performed this song live, their sound and cohesion recalled Coltrane's rhythm section. Himmelberger is a gifted and daring pianist who can play with arresting dexterity ("Rhythm-A-Ning ) or imbue the simplest chords with the deepest emotion ("Iris / Pee Wee ). The trio's rendition of the Weill/Gershwin chestnut "My Ship is as lovely a ballad as can be heard anywhere; Jackson's brushstrokes and Bayak's plucking give Himmelberger a firm foundation to tell the story.
Sometimes one doesn't want jazz that tries too hard to be innovative or to make a point. Something as elemental as a rhythm section will suffice. With a fine selection of songs and some kick-ass players to execute them, Don't Sleep on Your Dreams is a welcome emergence from the shadows.
Track Listing: Footprints; Firewater; Rhythm-A-Ning; Iris/Pee Wee; Paris Eyes; Never Let Me Go; Picadilly Lilly; My Ship.
Personnel: Bob Himmelberger: piano; Nicolas Bayak: acoustic bass; Bruce Jackson: drums.