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Willis Jackson: Nuther'n Like Thuther'n

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Right out of the gate, tenor man Willis Jackson signals that “Pool Shark” is going to be about the kind of hip boss shoutin’ (to borrow a Jackson album title) that was part and parcel of the Chitlin’ Circuit back in the days. With a Charleston beat that sets up a static background, Jackson tells his story with gusto right up to a Basie-like ending. By contrast, “Somewhere Along the Way” gets its bravado from Carl Wilson’s rich organ sonorities and then Jackson goes for the heart with a ballad performance of ‘Jug’ proportions. These are just the first two cuts from Nuther’n Like Thuther’n, but they set up the formula that follows through the rest of the eleven tracks which originally made up the album releases More Gravy and Boss Shoutin’.

While the casual listener might dismiss the music contained herein as just another run of the mill organ date, they’d be missing the point in that Jackson always seemed to have a knack for taking even the basic 12-bar blues (such as on “Stuffin”) and making it swing in a deeply satisfying way. His own improvisations are marked by a robust and full-bodied timbre that was clearly in the lineage of greats such as Ben Webster and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. It probably didn’t hurt too that the edition of Jackson’s combo heard here also included a very young Pat Martino (listed on the original albums as Pat Azzara), already displaying some dazzling chops in the limited solo forays he’s allowed.

Aside from Martino and bassists Sam Jones and George Tucker, none of the men featured with Jackson are familiar names, yet the chemistry they share with him is immediately obvious. So too is it a delight to hear the trumpet work of Frank Robinson, his muted lead with Jackson on “Fiddlin’” especially agreeable. But then there’s nothing here that could be considered filler. Jackson’s originals find new paths to tread even if the general road is a familiar one. Thanks again go to Fantasy for brining so much of Jackson’s Prestige catalog back into circulation. The music is deserving of a new audience.


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