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Milt Jackson: Soul Route

C. Michael Bailey By

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Two late great bluesmen.

Soul Route is a funky little confederation that brings together perhaps the two most sensitive blues sensibilities in jazz on a single recording— the late Milt Jackson and the late Gene Harris. Recorded during the former's productive ten-year association with Norman Granz and Pablo Records, Soul Route may be credited with sparking the reemergence of Idaho pianist Harris, who had spent a number of years in retirement following his long and successful leadership of The Three Sounds. On paper, no better match of musical temperament could even be imagined. In the studio, it was simply magic.

Ray Brown and Mickey Roker round out the rhythm section, and neither are strangers to this familiar territory of Jackson and Harris. The total combo turns into the total swing machine, an earthy musical perpetual motion. As one night expect, a good many of the selections are blues, all arranged and played with the perfect empathic telepathy one might expect of this group. These include Jackson's "Blues for Gene," specifically composed for the recording, Ray Brown's "Dejection Blues" (subsequently a favorite vehicle of Harris's), the title track, penned by Harris, and Ellington's famous "In A Mellowtone." But it is not all blues. The ballads "How Long Has This Been Going On" and "My Romance" are here also, rounding out the dynamic quartet's talent exposition, as well as a thoughtful rendering of "NE-Afterglow" and "Chloe."

Gene Harris performs three of the nine pieces on the electric piano, often evoking an almost organ-like tone (as on "How Long Has This Been Going On." Other times, he summons the instrument's bell-like qualities. For example, the disc opener, Ray Brown's road tune "Sittin' In The Sandtrap," it is almost impossible to tell the electric piano and vibraphone apart. The remainder of the disc is Brother Gene pounding the hammerklavier to matchsticks. Harris, long known for his orchestral, churchy-gospel sound is at his absolute sanctified best on the title track, where he preaches the gospel of fire-purified soul. And this is not even Gene Harris's outing. Milt Jackson, I suspect, never made a bad recording. His playing is sophisticated, yet earthy, intellectual, yet visceral. Jackson was always a master in his ability to reconcile musical faith and reason, ballads and blues, gladness and sadness. This is music that smiles a big smile.

Track Listing: Sittin' In The Sandtrap; Blues For Gene; How Long Has This Been Going On; Dejection Blues; Soul Route; Ne-Afterglow; In A Mellowtone; My Romance; Chloe. (Total Time: 46:26).

Personnel: Milt Jackson: Vibraphone; Ray Brown: Bass; Gene Harris: Piano; Mickey Roker: Drums.

Title: Soul Route | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Pablo

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