Before signing with BMG, the 33-year-old Canadian pianist and organist Jackson kept company with such avant-gardists as David Murray, Don Byron and Billy Bang on the Justin Time label. With BMG, he has moved into the mainstream, playing captivating melodies over Latin beats, but despite the accessibility of the music, there's no sense that he's compromised any musical principles. In fact, his effectiveness in such a contrasting situation underlines his innate musicality. Whatever he writes or plays seems to be natural, unforced and flowing, and the same sense of musical ease infects his companions, among them drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist James Carter, bassist Richard Bona and the talented young violinist Christian Howes. His musical versatility has given him a compelling voice as a soloist too. His solo on "Her Song" moves organically from McCoy Tyner licks to near-free chromatic flurries, all with flawless integrity. Jackson is clearly a player to watch. --Mark Gilbert
The first reason you should buy this album is D.D. Jackson himself -- a player whose colossal technique and hyperactive imagination was so vividly in evidence on his previous RCA album, "So Far." In "Anthem" he plays electric keyboards as well, and this may put him in bad odor with those jazz critics who reflexively hate anything electric. But Jackson's synth and B-3 playing (like the electric bass and violin on this album) adds a new range of expression -- new kinds of warmth, new kinds of aggression, new kinds of grandiloquence.
Jackson's gospel-by-way-of-Keith-Jarrett style (stupidly caricatured as "early ECM and new age wedding marches" by the amazon.com reviewer) has always been an important component of Jackson's compositions. Here the melody-and-groove aspect of Jackson's music is more conspicuous than before, but its marriage to Jackson's cluster-bomb style (which many critics seem to think is the only thing Jackson does) is far from "schizophrenic" -- it is most original aspect of the album! And you could not find a better lineup of musicians (Bona, DeJohnette, Cinelu, Howes, Carter) to bring off this new conception.
Why else should you buy this album? Well, take your pick. Richard Bona is a *burning* electric bass player, and his solos alone are worth your $15.00. Christian Howes is a wonderful improviser (check out his beautiful solo on "Spring Song") who can coax a greater range of sound out of his violins (both electric and acoustic) than any other jazz violinist. James Carter is, well, James Carter -- almost freakishly nimble, a historicist without cobwebs, careening from early Coleman Hawkins to Dewey Redman inside a single measure (and making it sound entirely natural).
And then there are the compositions, which manage the difficult trick of sounding effortlessly tuneful on first hearing and revealing new insights on subsequent repeated rehearings. Jackson thinks like a composer. This album integrates composition and solo improvisation, revising and enlivening the routine bebop framework. (You know the one: a perfunctory little tune followed by one harmonic steeplechase after another, as the soloists take their obligatory turns.) To choose one example, check out the 12-step modulation (across all the keys within an octave) in "Carnivale" -- a clever harmonic conceit turns into a compositional framework into which each player can insert his improvisational identity.
Yeah, this project sounds good on paper. It'll sound even better on your stereo. Buy it.