Vanguard Jazz Orchestra sideman steps into spotlight with ‘Inspiration’
Jason Jackson

Jason Jackson’s new album boasts an orchestra so lavish, the bandleader and trombonist required three major sessions with a star-studded personnel numbering over 30 musicians each. Jackson’s Inspiration is his second album as a bandleader and the first to come out (Oct. 14) in 13 years on his and vocalist wife Rosena Hill’s record label, Jack & Hill Music in association with Planet Arts.

He and his famous friends put their personal stamp on the 10 elaborate, big band compositions in slick, sophisticated arrangements — half of which Jackson penned himself — for a new generation of listeners. Through the natural interaction of the New York City sideman with his educators and fellow performers, Jackson (Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band) was able to tap into the top jazz minds for this full-on updated orchestral romp: Roy Hargrove, Slide Hampton, Terell Stafford, Bill Watrous, Evan Christopher, Rich Perry, Pete Christlieb, Dick Oatts, Roger Jones II, Michael Melvoin, Rufus Reid, John Guerin, Roger Squitero, Dennis Mackrel, Eddie Karam, Steve Wilson. He spent 10 years pouring all of his creativity as a jazz and Broadway musician into this record.

Jackson brings an entire rhythm, string, and horn section to bear on moody, inspired pieces of jazz Americana. There is the Broadway (“Tenderly”), the marching parade (“Salute To Mandela”), the swanky, polyrhythmic, Afro-Cuban jazz nightclub (“April In Paris”), and the samba-montuno original, “Brazilian Bop.”

On the original compositions, Jackson makes room for all the groove necessary to get his core jazz chops across. “Burnin’” is exactly that, with each soloist laying down fruitful, musically correct, and artful challenges under a trombone-driven, jagged-jazzy melodic refrain.

Another original, “The Spot” calls attention to the jam sessions of the jazz sidemen’s interplay; their idea of letting loose, hanging out, and partying. “It’s where musicians have sort of a social gathering; otherwise we’re working all the time,” he explained in his August 12th press release. “It’s where we go to play and hone our skills and be inspired by each other’s ideas.” Listening to it is like sneaking in on a really cool jazz quartet’s rehearsal, two hours before going live. Pianist Roger Jones, bassist Rufus Reid, and Jackson ease into their solo interplays like old pros, comping one another’s shaken ruckus in an inherent forward movement, nice and easy, taking their sweet time.

“Salute To Mandela” has all the pomp and circumstances worthy of the late South African leader. The music is regal, with an enthralling sound of a Spanish bullfight through the horns, and a polished Afro-Cuban percussive track. The composition is by Daniel Jackson, arranged by Jason Jackson, and showcases the solos of the star and trumpeter Terell Stafford without an ounce of superfluous contact.

Jackson spends considerable time in the Broadway orchestra pit for Tony-award-winning musicals (The Color Purple, Motown The Musical, Wonderful Town, Nice Work If You Can Get It). That Broadway flair shows up frequently in his songs, including the swanky “Wake Up Election 2000” (his), “Spring Is Here” by Richard Rodgers/arranged by Eddie Karam, and Walter Gross’ movie-ready love story, “Tenderly,” arranged by fellow trombonist Slide Hampton to up the romance factor.

Jackson’s solos throughout, especially on “Tenderly,” play equally well as separate jazz pieces and within an orchestral context, individually stunning and powerfully seamless as a part of the collective. The mood he evokes always has a hint of passing fancies, as in “Tenderly.” It’s quite the romance of tragic, star-crossed lovers who get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet.

Jason Jackson’s CD release show for Inspiration is scheduled on Nov. 29 at Smalls in New York City. Of course, he’s bringing an orchestra for the occasion.