Elegantly bridging the gap between free playing and more structured work, tenor saxophonist/pianist Jessica Jones and her quartet deliver a record that bucks convention while, remarkably, remaining somewhat true to it. Influenced as much by the Art Ensemble of Chicago as by Wayne Shorter and Jackie McLean, Nod comfortably traverses a variety of territories, including open-ended improvisation, straight-ahead swing, and even a bit of hip hop.
With a r'sum' that includes work with artists as diverse as Bo Diddley and Cecil Taylor, not to mention years spent with Haitian and calypso bands, it's no surprise Jones' view is expansive. That she chooses to work in partnership with her husband, tenor player Tony Jones, means that a lifetime together pursuing more than just music has created a deeper simpatico. The only real problem is that, with neither player being that established, it is virtually impossible to know who is playing what. Still, the tenor work on the record is of a high standard, generally reaching outwards while still maintaining an anchor inside the box.
Bassist Ken Filiano has, of course, a solid reputation with artists including the similarly-disposed Fred Hess and a number of more outer-reaching West Coast players. What is perhaps most remarkable is the appearance of drummer Derrek Phillips, best known for his work over the past couple years with eight-string guitar groove-meister Charlie Hunter. Even on an album that is considerably freer than his work with Hunter, he demonstrates the same unfailing sense of time and groove. Jessica Jones' tribute to Wayne Shorter, "Waynopolis," swings along in a relaxed way that sets the groundwork from fine solos by both Joneses as well as guest Mark Taylor on French horn.
There's even a certain element of new music inflection to some of the work, specifically "Love and Persevere," which again features Taylor as well as Art Ensemble returnee Joseph Jarman on bass clarinet. More creative music than free playing, the tune demonstrates the breadth of Jones' concept.
But for the most part, there's a strong sense of tradition in what the quartet does. The only real distraction on an otherwise fine contemporary album that blurs the boundaries between free playing and post bop is the inclusion of vocals on a number of tunes. The lyrics to "Happiness Is" reflects their hippie roots: "Happiness is seeing us all coming together, people of the sun understanding we are one." As engaging as the acoustic soul/funk closer "Platform Shoes - Apocalypse" is, Phillips' rap is superfluous.
Still, with a programme of clever originals and personal reworking of Jackie McLean's "Little Melonae" and the standard "These Foolish Things," Jones and her quartet have created an album that, for all its left leanings, is remarkably centred and maintains a surprising level of accessibility.
Bird's Word; Little Melonae; Happiness Is; Waynopolis; Love and Persevere; Manhattan; These Foolish Things; Platform Shoes - Apocalypse
Jessica Jones (tenor saxophone, piano), Tony Jones (tenor saxophone), Derrek Phillips (drums, vocals on "Platform Shoes - Apocalypse"), Ken Filiano (bass) With: Connie Crothers (piano on "Bird's Word," "Happiness Is"), Joseph Jarman (alto sax on "Little Melonae," bass clarinet on "Love and Persevere"), Mark Taylor (French horn on "Happiness Is," "Waynopolis," "Love and Persevere"), Levi Jones (vocals on "Happiness Is"), Candace Jones (vocals on "These Foolish Things")
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