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Jason Jackson: Inspiration

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Inspiration can’t really be classified as a vanity project, since its impresario, Jason Jackson, is neither a household name nor particularly interested in becoming one. But Jackson composed five of its 10 songs, arranged six of them, performed trombone solos on all of them, and hired three different star-studded big bands to deliver them in the regally conservative style he obviously prefers. Inspiration is big-budget, boffo entertainment that utilizes Jackson’s connections to Broadway, Hollywood and the New York City jazz scene.

As a soloist, Jackson holds his own against the likes of Roy Hargrove, Slide Hampton and Pete Christlieb, operating with an unruffled legato virtuosity reminiscent of Urbie Green and Tommy Dorsey. He is also efficient and consonant with the melody and mien of the songs, none of which exceed seven minutes. The program includes numbers that are light and tropical, like Jackson’s self-explanatory “Brazilian Bop” and Evan Christopher’s “El Huesero,” and unabashedly anthemic, such as “Salute to Mandela” and “Wake Up Election 2000,” both of which feature brash, impeccably clear solos from trumpeter Terell Stafford that are among the highlights of the disc. Hampton, Jackson’s former teacher, trades solos with him on “Brazilian Bop” and offers a wonderful arrangement of “Tenderly” that makes good use of the stellar lower-register personnel in the band, namely baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and trombonist Luis Bonilla. Hargrove’s solo on the song Jackson wrote in his honor, “Burnin’,” isn’t as memorable as his contribution to “April in Paris,” where he showcases his welcome recent penchant for making and then stirring mellow embers in a midtempo context.

The closer, “My Friend Sam,” has Hollywood composer-arranger Eddie Karam conducting a Jackson song written in tribute to Karam’s late son. Like the rest of Inspiration it is heartfelt and accessible without being overly sentimental.

Originally Published