Issue January 16, 2007

Show Off: Jazz giants Jackson, Barron simply incredible

Javon Jackson Super Band & Kenny Barron

The Jazz Factory

815 W. Market St.

Nov. 29-30

Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron

The Jazz Factory closed out November with two incredible nights in a row, beginning with the Javon Jackson Super Band and Kenny Barron in a solo performance.

While “Super Band” may sound like hype, Jackson’s bandmates — Jimmy Cobb on drums, George Cables on piano and Rodney Whitaker on bass — lived up to their billing.

Jackson himself has played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Freddie Hubbard and Elvin Jones, to name a few.

Cobb was part of Miles Davis’ group when the quintessential Kind of Blue was recorded. He has also recorded as a leader over the decades, most recently on the 2006 CD Marsalis Music Honors Jimmy Cobb. Cables and Whitaker, too, are first-call sidemen and leaders in their own right.

These rich backgrounds wouldn’t mean a thing if the players ended up being a group with no sense of ensemble identity.

This was not the case. The band opened its first set with a fast-paced “My Shining Hour,” featuring Jackson quoting “Fascinating Rhythm” and other standards in his solo.

By giving his fellow players solo space, Jackson demonstrated the self-assurance that allowed him to assume the leadership role in a band with these two elder statesmen.

Next, the group undertook Dave Brubeck’s classic “In Your Own Sweet Way,” during which Cobb seemed to be in telepathic contact with Cables. Cobb’s accents fell perfectly into place.

Where is the Love,” off Jackson’s new album Now, was a crowd-pleaser, and rightly so, as the musicians took the song to new places with brief yet engaging solos.

Body and Soul” offered the first opportunity to watch Cobb’s mastery of the brushes, and his effortless ability to switch to sticks and back again as the development of the solos demanded.

The second set consisted of all jazz and show-tune standards, except for Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing,” which divided “Invitation” and the John Lewis “Milestones” from “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” John Coltrane’s beautiful ballad “Naima,” and Miles Davis’ “The Theme.”

Jackson’s solos throughout the night combined soulfulness with dexterity. He’s engaging whether he’s playing straight jazz songs or pop tunes.

Kenny Barron needs no introduction to jazz fans. He has been among the top jazz pianists for some 40 years, and his credits include work with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard and Stan Getz.

His Nov. 30 performance was a revelation even for those who have seen him before in other formats.

Barron’s first set probed the melodies of Eubie Blake’s “Memories of You,” his playing ranging from spare to dense with an impeccable sense of time.

I’m Confessin’” found Barron adding stride flourishes to this classic. He followed up with two more old, yet ageless pieces, “The Very Thought of You” and Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low.”

In the second set, Barron returned to Monk’s canon with “Blue Monk,” played more elaborately than the composer’s spare and jagged style. Another Barron original, “Calypso,” conjured images of Sonny Rollins.

The lengthy, almost abstract introduction of “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” resolved almost magically into the famed melody. Two pieces without titles were next, and Barron closed the evening with a jazz classic that he wrote, “Sunshower.”

Throughout both sets, Barron’s spoken introductions and back announcements were delivered with warmth and self-deprecating humor, adding to the night’s special ambience.

Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com