Jazz Review
Once Upon A Melody

By: Thomas R. Erdmann

It’s amazing how consistently good Denver-raised, saxophonist Javon Jackson is. His ability, disc after disc, to deliver, at the highest artistic level, music that is not just technically proficient and full of the spirit of jazz’s tradition, but also esthetically pleasing and a whole lot of fun to listen to, is beyond compare. With his latest release, Once Upon A Melody, Jackson again releases another incredible tome of the finest straight-ahead jazz available.

Jackson’s background includes time as a student at both the University of Denver and the Berklee College of Music before joining Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Since then, in addition to a lot of work as a leader, Jackson has worked with Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Charlie Haden, to name but only a few of the legends who have wanted Jackson’s unique musical mind and sentiments in their bands . In addition to his performing, Jackson currently teaches at SUNY Purchase.

On Once Jackson is accompanied by totally underappreciated and most assuredly talent-deserving-wider-recognition pianist Eric Reed, young newcomer Corcoran Holt on bass, and drum-percussion jazz legend Billy Drummond. Jackson and band lay out eight standards – or tunes that should be standards – along with two Jackson originals.

The ensemble is so in-sync at times it’s hard to know where one musician ends and the others begin. On ‘Will You Still Be Mine,’ for example, Reed’s slightly pulsative eighth-note chordal fragment alternations behind Jackson fit so perfectly it sounds like one musician subtlety singing his heart out. Then, no matter how many times you listen to this track, you’ll never be able to figure out Drummond and Holt were able to make their accompaniment sound so locked into Reed’s rhythmic framework. Much too rarely can one hear a single intent coming from four musicians to the extent exhibited here, but engaged in the creation of a seamless balance they are.

The same kind of rapport is again heard on Reed’s lilting solo on Jackson’s original, ‘Mr. Jones.’ Drummond is truly the master of understatement that is yet so full of statement you’ll absolutely schedule time to enrapture yourself in his shifting backbeat punctuations that are gloriously both in and out of time at the same time.

Eschewing pomp and flash for tenderness and emotive response, Jackson chooses tunes and tempos throughout that serve the rapport of the members rather than flashy displays of technical mastery. For this the listener is richly rewarded with an hour or so of meaningful jazz you’ll find yourself listening to over and over. Rather than being one those discs, like gum, that lose their flavor after just a few chews, you’ll come back repeatedly.