Reviewed by Don Williamson
Javon Jackson – Have You Heard
Javon Jackson’s got his groove back. Starting with his first Palmetto release, Easy Does It, Jackson gave his listeners a taste of funk in a style influenced as much by R&B, James Brown and Prince as by Art Blakey, whose Jazz Messengers Jackson joined immediately upon leaving the Berklee University of Music. Just as fellow Jazz Messengers like Wallace Roney, Terence Blanchard, Geoff Keezer and Kenny Garrett have grown to pursue their own interests, essentially explorative expressions of their personalities, so has Jackson grown through successive work with Elvin Jones, Charlie Haden, Jacky Terrasson and Christian McBride.
But in moving forward, Jackson is looking back, particularly toward the boogaloo made popular by Lou Donaldson in the late 1960’s. Shrewdly, and no doubt because he’s energized by the organist’s presence, Jackson has recruited Dr. Lonnie Smith to back him up on both Palmetto releases, first Easy Does It and now Have You Heard. In the process, Smith is as responsible for setting the mood of the CD as is Jackson as they feed off each other to develop the grooves of each song into deeper and deeper soulfulness. “Have You Heard” itself suggests Donaldson’s “One Cylinder,” which was built upon a single chord, thus necessitating that the feeling of the music depend upon the immersion of the instrumentalists into the gospel-derived emotion. Jackson obviously recognizes the benefits of working with Smith, one of the few remaining B-3 organists from the circuits of the sixties and early seventies, when he includes the blues, “Dr Smith,” which not only allows Jackson to stretch out with fluidity and passion, but also showcases Smith’s one-of-a-kind dynamics—a throwback to the too-seldom-heard jazz organ work more common a generation ago, but also incorporating a style all his own.
Vocalist Lisa Fischer, a back-up singer for The Rolling Stones and Luther Vandross, appears on three of the songs, adding another dimension to the music, just as a blues singer would to an instrumental blues group. Moaning and cooing at the introduction of “Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home” as if in warm-up, Fischer huskily comes in at low volume and lower range for the first chorus, as if understating the drama of the song’s theme, before she raises the temperature before the blues-guitar-riffing conclusion of the song. On “Dance Floor,” with similar boogaloo rhythm, Fischer indeed does provide vocal back-up, accenting Jackson’s sinuous soloing throughout the number with some “shake shake shake’s” and “oo-oo-aah’s”.
The other notable member of Jackson’s group if guitarist Mark Whitfield, who immerses “Summertime” in as much funk as possible with his jaunty distorted guitar lines while Jackson goes legato over the propulsion. On the backbeat-driven “Quik,” the entire group from the start lays down a cohesive and infectious vamp, driven by bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Terr eon Gully, that Jackson and quickly adopt and then transform through witty improvisation.
Though Javon Jackson has pursued various paths in his search for fulfillment in the 15 years since he left the Jazz Messengers upon Blakey’s passing, it appears now that the one he enjoys the most is watching his audiences get on their feet and dance or clap in place and become one with the music, the separation between stage and seating areas evaporated. Plus, it appears that Palmetto Records is broadening its scope by signing entertaining, crowd-pleasing artists like Jackson and Smith. Listeners who are more interested in the immediate impact of the music than in analyzing or categorizing it no doubt will enjoy Have You Heard immensely.