December 2008

Javon Jackson
Once Upon a Melody
Palmetto Records

Relaxed confidence oozes out of Javon Jackson as he launches into his solo on the opening track, “One by One,” showcasing the funkier compositional side of Wayne Shorter. The same self-assured swagger is evident in the ensuing mid-tempo swinger, “Will You Still Be Mine,” after Jackson’s ultra-smooth melody statement.

And Jackson does deliver, building to a Rollins-like wail playing on the Shorter line and adoring the Matt Dennis bridge in his “Be Mine” solo. The rhythm section gives their leader additional reasons for confidence. Eric Reed unleashes prodigious chops on piano, astonishingly Tyner-esque with both hands on “Mr. Taylor,” a Jackson original with all the staying power of Trane’s “Blues for Bessie.” Billy Drummond works his kit with Elvin-like intensity here behind the soloists. His finesse on cymbals catches the ear more readily on “Mr. Jones” and “Like a Star,” and he’s the secret ingredient in the success of “The In Crowd,” perhaps a better cover than Ramsey Lewis deserves.

There are times when Jackson, as leader and producer, should have been less confident and more demanding. On the quartet’s cover of Rollins’ “Paradox,” where it’s almost impossible for Jackson not to sound like the composer, he doesn’t seem to mind bassist Corcoran Holt freezing up during his solo or Reed lapsing into Oscar Peterson autopilot. Holt’s commanding solo on “Mr. Jones,” another compelling Jackson original, only reinforces the conviction that this version of “Paradox” shouldn’t have risen to alternate-take status.

Once Upon a Melody clearly intends to glorify tradition. With Jackson building his solo on the famed “A Love Supreme” refrain, the quartet’s cover of McCoy Tyner’s “Inner Glimpse” is an unabashed tribute to the Coltrane quartet. Less sanctified is the Jackson/Reed duet on “My One and Only Love.” A full 4:39 for one solo, just 13 seconds shorter than the two-solo Trane/Hartman classic. Now that’s relaxed!

Originally published in December 2008
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