Ron Jackson’s latest CD – Standards and My Songs – is a swinging collection of eleven tunes – both standards and originals – that features the New York City 7-String Jazz Guitarist delivering what he refers to as “Big City Jazz”, and I don’t dispute that claim in the least. His fat tone, choice of tunes and musical character takes me back to the heyday of smoky, intimate Jazz clubs where the likes of Howard Roberts, Grant Green and O’Donel Levy would hold court in front of a very enthusiastic audience.
Stylistically, Jackson’s playing is deeply rooted in the hard bop/post bop tradition in line with cats like George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Mr. Kenny Burrell, with Jackson channeling their dynamism as he digs deep into a tune’s harmonic foundation. And dig deep he does!
“Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl”) – the 1972 pop hit made famous by The Looking Glass – and Quincy Jones’ R&B classic “Secret Garden” are great examples of this as Jackson, organist Brian Ho and drummer Willie Jones III spice things up considerably as only top-shelf Jazz players can. These are the kind of tunes that remind me so much of Howard Roberts’ or Grant Green’s treatment of pop songs back in the day. Jackson caters to his fondness for Wes style octave work, muscular chord shots, Benson-like double stops and a strong sense of where the melody lies while double-timed lines fly by with effortless ability. Ho and Jones III keep the pace and support on-point giving Jackson the space he needs to do his thang.
“Moose the Mooche” and “This Was Nearly Mine” are two Jazz standards that feature Jackson, Willie Jones III and bassist Ben Wolfe keeping the tradition alive and in good company. “Moose the Mooche” showcases each member as they tear through the up-tempo chart with almost wild abandon. A riotous ride indeed and a killer tune for all to shine on!
In contrast, “This Was Nearly Mine”, with its touching nod to the late, great Bucky Pizzarelli is a nice reminder of how melodic and delicate Jackson can be when the moment is right. In the same vein “For Pat” – an original composition loosely based on Pat Martino’s “Country Road” – also benefits wonderfully from Jackson’s ability to slow things down nicely as he pays tribute to two giants of Jazz Guitar who inspired him to keep moving ever forward.
And while we’re talking about ballads, Jackson’s original tune “She Is Love” is a sweet number co-written with his wife Michelle Etwaroo and features a recurring theme that reminds me of Sting’s “Englishman in New York”. I don’t know if this musical quote was deliberate or if it came by naturally, but it works in the songs favor, which is what matters 🙂 Definitely a radio friendly tune that should have no problem finding its way onto the Jazz charts.
The remaining original tunes, “Walk Fast”, “From Dusk to Dawn” and “Roundabout” share the same intensity and enthusiasm from all concerned as they run down the charts with fervor and passion. Not surprising given that they are all great players steeped in a Jazz tradition that spans decades of experience and dues-paying. “Roundabout” – a fun calypso style tune – also features Trombone player Clark Gayton and is sure to have your feet tapping from the first bar to the last.
The last tune on Standards and My Songs is the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne classic “Time After Time”. Ron Jackson plays this one as a solo guitar piece and features his 7-String technique ala Bucky Pizzarelli “…who strongly encouraged Jackson to take up the 7-string ten years ago.“* Thankfully he took Bucky’s counsel as Jackson has been focusing on getting all he can out of the 7-String for some time now, which you can hear to full effect throughout this solo guitar arrangement. Definitely worth checking out.
If you’re a fan of straight-ahead Jazz Guitar and looking to discover some new players and music, give Ron Jackson a listen. You just may end up running out to buy yourself your own 7-String Guitar 🙂
*Quote taken from the liner notes
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