149

Willis Jackson: Livin' Large

Derek Taylor By

Sign in to view read count
In decades past making the transition from the so-called ‘bar-walking’ minor leagues to Majors of ‘legitimate’ jazz was a feat many saxophonists attempted but few accomplished. So much so that the visage of the honking, R&B tenor man is still regarded with scorn by many ‘serious’ jazz musicians and particularly critics. When the Chitlin Circuit (the dusty route through the South and Midwest that served as a gravy train for countless players) was in full swing during the 1950s and 60s the stigma attached to players who ‘soiled’ their chops on the countertops was even more widespread.

Willis “Gator” Jackson spent a good stretch of his career working the Circuit and blowing a blend of early R&B and rock & roll to rowdy, raucous crowds across the United States. By the early 60s he had ‘refined’ his approach and slipped smoothly into another easy and much maligned category, Soul Jazz. This recent Prestige two-fer samples five albums from this period and proves conclusively that Jackson could hold up in the company of jazz peers both in terms of technique and creativity. His big tone was firmly in the tradition of Gene Ammons, whom he credits copiously in the various liner notes included, and while rarely flashy his phrasing always digs enthusiastically into the meat of a tune. The program of songs serves up a potpourri of styles from Bossa Nova to Latin to heavy groove and throughout it all Jackson’s throaty tenor blows through a lusty range of ideas. The most interesting group instrumentally speaking is arguably the first, which includes Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan and Roy Haynes alongside a solid Latin skins section, comprised of Amalbert, Montego Joe and José Paulo. Burrell is even joined by an uncredited acoustic guitarist (possibly Paulo?) on the Bossa-tinged tracks “Cachita” and “Mama Inez.” The rhythms and harmonies while largely basic allow Jackson to let his emotive side shine through, particularly on ballads like “What Kind of Fool Am I” where his gossamer tone threatens to dissolve in its own delicate vibrato.

The tender soul ballad “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” made famous by Isaac Hayes gets the cocktail treatment as Jackson switches to gator horn (a reed that sounds suspiciously like an alto) and Ivory’s organ spreads a syrupy sentimentality beneath. The percolating boogaloo beat of “Florence of Arabia” switches pitches again with Jackson locking into a tasty harmony with Ivory. Quartet and Quintet sessions round the disc out moving from spiritual standbys to a pair of fast-paced Johnny Griffin numbers. In each instance Jackson stays true to his sound, reveling in the unique sonorities of his horn and proving that exclusionary descriptors like ‘legitimate’ and ‘serious’ hold no credence when it comes to creative music.


Track Listing: Shuckin

Personnel: Willis Jackson- tenor saxophone, gator horn; Kenny Burrell- guitar; Tommy Flanagan- piano; Eddie Calhoun- bass; Roy Haynes- drums, cabasa; Juan Amalbert- conga, timbales; Montego Joe- conga; Jos

| Record Label: Prestige Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles

More Articles

Read Acceptance CD/LP/Track Review Acceptance
by Tyran Grillo
Published: February 26, 2017
Read The Wild CD/LP/Track Review The Wild
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 26, 2017
Read This Is Nate Najar CD/LP/Track Review This Is Nate Najar
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 26, 2017
Read Joy Comes Back CD/LP/Track Review Joy Comes Back
by James Nadal
Published: February 26, 2017
Read Apocalypse CD/LP/Track Review Apocalypse
by Julian Derry
Published: February 26, 2017
Read The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door CD/LP/Track Review The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 25, 2017
Read "Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons" CD/LP/Track Review Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons
by Mark Corroto
Published: March 14, 2016
Read "Shock Axis" CD/LP/Track Review Shock Axis
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 21, 2016
Read "Solstice" CD/LP/Track Review Solstice
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: October 30, 2016
Read "Antenna" CD/LP/Track Review Antenna
by Mark Sullivan
Published: November 22, 2016
Read "Rough Boundaries" CD/LP/Track Review Rough Boundaries
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: July 31, 2016
Read "WANDERlust" CD/LP/Track Review WANDERlust
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 19, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!