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 Gillespie
All-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."