Saxophonist Javon Jackson has had one of those careers that’s impressive as hell when you look closely, though he’s remained almost entirely under the radar of everyone but hardcore jazz fans. He got his start in the final lineup of Art Blakey‘s Jazz Messengers, playing on the drummer’s last four albums, then embarked on a solo career in 1992. From 1994 to 1999, he put out five albums on Blue Note, and has also recorded for Criss Cross, Palmetto, and his own Solid Jackson label. He’s also racked up a vast number of sideman credits. He released Expression, which featured pianist Orrin Evans, on the highly regarded Smoke Sessions label in 2014, and his latest CD, We’ll Be Together Again, is out now on the Chesky imprint. (Get it from Amazon.) Issued under the collective name Three’s Company rather than Jackson’s own, it features bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Drummond, both of whom also played on trumpeter Jeremy Pelt‘s excellent new album #jiveculture (reviewed here).
The album is interesting from a technical standpoint as well as a musical one. Part of Chesky’s Binaural + Series, it was recorded using a custom device consisting of a dummy human head with microphones placed where the ears would be. The real-world effect of this is to create a listening experience (particularly on headphones) that is much more seamless and whole than traditional multi-track recordings provide. Because it’s all captured from a single point, there’s no bleeding effect. Still, this isn’t mono; the instruments are clearly separated in space. Jackson is on the left, Carter on the right, Drummond in the middle. But there’s air and “room sound” swaddling the music as well, and it sounds more like something that’s happening around you than something happening inside your head, if that makes sense.
But what’s being played is, of course, the primary draw. This is a subdued album, strongly in the spirit of Joe Henderson‘s two-volume The State of the Tenor live albums from the early 1980s. The repertoire includes multiple standards (“Dark Eyes,” the title track, “Danny Boy,” “Epistrophy,” “But Beautiful”), three pieces by Carter (the opening “For Toddlers Only,” “Candlelight,” and “Eddie’s Theme”), and two by Jackson (“TJ,” written for his father, and “My Man Hubbard,” a dedication to Freddie Hubbard, with whom the saxophonist played). These pieces are played at tempos ranging from a dignified sway to an emphatic trot, with Carter and Drummond so locked into each other they’re like a single organism. Because of the way the music was recorded, it really sounds like a conversation among all three men, with Jackson taking the lead most of the time, obviously, but with plenty of room left for the others at all times. (Carter’s and Drummond’s solos on “For Toddlers Only” are forceful, but in more of an authoritative/declarative way than a traditional burnout.)
The big risk with an album like this is that the sheer familiarity of the material (as mentioned, it includes five songs that most serious jazz fans have heard performed dozens if not hundreds of times by various artists) will combine with its relaxed delivery to become something that simply glides in one ear and out the other. It’s the kind of thing that could very, very easily become background music.
Fortunately, it doesn’t, and the expertise of the players—and the brilliance of the recording—are what save it from that fate. We’ll Be Together Again is a jazz album that makes no effort to break out of the pre-existing boundaries of the genre, or reach new listeners. But by remaining so circumscribed, it makes a powerful argument for the cardinal virtues of classicist jazz, and the saxophone trio in particular. If you like Sonny Rollins‘ 1950s albums; if you like John Coltrane‘s Lush Life; if you like jazz that is instantly identifiable as such, that has no time for Radiohead covers or hip-hop production techniques…then We’ll Be Together Again is the album for you. It’s the musical equivalent of spending an hour relaxing in a deep, brown leather armchair in a century-old, wood-paneled library. Not the kind of thing you want to do every day of your life, but a true pleasure when you make time for it.
Stream the album on Spotify: