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Javon Jackson: Easy Does It

Tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson seems right at home on this nice set of soul-jazz tunes. He’s certainly helped by the presence of trombonist Fred Wesley, who’s still a great funk and blues stylist, as well as Dr. Lonnie Smith, a top-flight organist who’s never gotten the credit he deserves as a Hammond B3 stalwart. Guitarist Mark Whitfield and drummer Lenny White keep the groove steady and burning as well, and vocalist Eve Cornelious brings some sizzle and sultriness to “House Party.” This works both as a good party record and solid jazz set with one exception. The group’s cover of “Wake Up Everybody,” while exuberantly delivered, simply lacks the power and weight of the original. Their rendition sounds more like a rousing dance exhortation than the sweltering, commanding mandate that Teddy Pendergrass delivered in his definitive original performance that was also his swan song to Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

Otherwise, this disc brings back fond memories of late-night house celebrations and Sunday-afternoon radio shows on vintage black radio stations. Jackson’s “Kiss,” Smith’s “If (You See Kay)” and Wesley’s title track get excellent drumming on the bottom from White, blues-tinged, scorching solos by Jackson and Wesley and striding, full organ lines by Smith. Whitfield’s splayed, frenetic solos also add a tight edge. He can be either a frenetic or a sophisticated soloist, while also smoothly contributing during the unison sections. Jackson’s writing also merits praise, particularly the final numbers “Easy Does It” and “J-Soul.” These have a relaxed, catchy groove and good blend of instrumental fire and rhythmic assertiveness.

Throughout Easy Does It Jackson plays with more verve and swing on supposedly less jazz-oriented pieces than he has in the past doing mainstream material, which indicates to me that he’s really enjoying himself. Personally, I’d much rather hear him doing good blues and funk than tentative, detached hard bop.

Originally Published