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Willis Jackson/Jack McDuff: Together Again!

Together is truly the word for this delightful reissue by Jackson’s working band from 1959 to ’61, with guitarist Bill Jennings and organist McDuff. Jackson was a thoroughly sentimental and soulful tenor saxophonist with a laid-back attack and a rare knack for pianissimo dynamic gradations. Hear how with a minimum of embellishment-a few grace notes and up-slurs, then a climactic romantic, vibrato-rich swell-he lends a most personal, wistful melancholy to “It Might as Well Be Spring.” Hear especially the long, beautifully sexy “This’ll Get to Ya,” as his simple, ancient blues riffs start a couple beats late and float like smoke over the slow tempo. Jackson loves that floating, smoky swing even at fast tempos (“Three Little Words”), and like Pres he surely knew the lyrics, for his solos expand on the songs’ original moods. And often enough he also likes to hit hard and bluesy, with a big, rich sound, and blow the walls down, as in the opener “Gil’s Pills” and the coarse-toned closer “Snake Crawl.”

His style is an advance on Illinois Jacquet’s. Jackson’s expressive-emotional range is expansive and he carefully shapes solos with fine sensitivity to flow and phrase contrasts, a la the Hodges-Webster school, You can hear his refined sense of form on “Dancing on the Ceiling” and the fast blues “Tu’Gether.”

Organist Jack McDuff mostly accompanies, extending Jackson’s moods with big-bandlike riffs here, funky vamps there and then quiet, tasty ballad underlines. Jennings takes more solo space, featuring a light, attractive reverb and occasional licks with a honky-tonk country twang; “Angel Eyes” is his ballad showpiece, and elsewhere he too is a perfect accompanist for Jackson. Al Johnson drums on most selections and the bassists are Tommy Potter, Wendell Marshall, Milt Hinton and Jimmy Lewis.

Originally Published