Anthony Jackson is a living legend of modern music. Like his hero, the great James Jamerson, millions of music lovers know his music who might not know his name. He is a true innovator, a great musical mind and a man of great integrity. He invented and pioneered the 6-string extended range bass guitar (his contrabass guitar), used a pick and phasers when few others in his chosen genres were doing so, and played a large part in the development of the electric bass guitar as a serious instrument. He is famous for his lush lines, advanced sense of reharmonization, contrapuntal approach, Messiaen inspired use of the tritone as a pivotal interval, memorable melodic phrasing, deep grooving, sensitivity in jazz, funk, fusion and latin styles, sonic experimentation and musical perfectionism. His monumental, Bach-like bass lines with the likes of Chaka Khan, the O’Jays. Michel Camilo, Al di Meola, Steve Khan, Hiromi, Mike Stern and many, many others are a delight and a study source for all bassists.
Excitement spread rapidly when news broke that Anthony Jackson was to release a solo album: there was a buzz in the air. I half expected something like an album length version of Jackson’s incredible solo on Steve Khan’s ‘The Suitcase’ or small group session centered on Jackson’s fabulous bass and brimming with improvisation. Anthony Jackson being Anthony Jackson, he has confounded all expectations: it’s nothing like that at all. Interspirit very much a Yiorgos Fakanas project featuring Anthony Jackson. Fakanas, a gifted bassist and composer from Greece, wrote and arranged all the music and played all the bass solos and some of the ensemble bass parts. Jackson plays some stunning ensemble bass and a number of beautifully phrased bass guitar melodies: usually with a pick and often multi-tracked.
The project is a weighted towards Fakanas’ composition although it features some inspired improvised moments. Fakanas’ writing is complex, challenging and intricate – occasionally too much to take in straight away. It is a CD of great moments: tricky complex melodies and countermelodies, strong moments of simple melody, barnstorming fusion grooves and occasionally overlong written sections. Fakanas has a stunning resume of his own: he heads a new music conservatory in Greece and has played with Dave Weckl, Mike Stern, Frank Gambale, Dennis Chambers, Anthony Jackson, Bireli Lagrene, Eric Marienthal, Alex Acuna, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Lenny White, Wallace Roney, Bob Franceschini and Tony Lakatos among others.
Fakanas is a fine musician and deserves the wider audience that this project will undoubtedly gain him. His soloing has a nimble, Ornette-like playfulness. His writing is atmospheric and moving at times but tends toward overcomplexity at times I yearned for a simple melody. The line-up is chock-full of the finest players. Dave Weckl on drums is a giant, Frank Gambale is at his absolute best on guitar, Mitch Forman on keyboards plays wonderfully and Takis Paterelis (alto sax); Tony Lakatos (tenor sax); Antonis Andreou (trombone); Mihail Iosifov (trumpet) make telling and inspired contributions. The Kinisis String Quartet play an important and expressive role. Gambale, in particular plays beautifully and creates some fabulous improvisations on ‘Interspirit’, ‘Seviglia’, ‘Caldera’ and ‘Parhelia’.
The flamenco influenced ‘Seviglia‘ is a standout track with a dark toned theme, great use of strings, fabulous bass, emotionally charged guitar and romping tenor sax. The latin feel of ‘Caldera‘ is a perfect vehicle for Anthony Jackson’s brilliance. Gambale’s guitar leaps out, unfettered and inspired, over brilliant stabs and accents, creating a joyous, well-structured improvisation (only a slight hint of shred) over a driving groove. There is a bold, declamatory trumpet solo, an intense bass solo from Fakanas and an explosive drum solo from Weckl like the release of a tightly coiled spring. The return of the surging, majestic theme is underscored by some great doubled lines from Jackson. This is one of the most successful tracks on the album – full of explosive energy.
The power funk fusion tracks alone are worth buying the record for. ‘Inner Power‘ has tight Brecker Brothers-style horns, superhuman drums, excellent bass lines and a quirky semi-harmolodic bass solo. ‘Interspirit‘ has a squelchy funk intro, a gorgeous bass, drum and percussion groove, layers of flute and keys and precise and powerful soundtrack-style horns. As on a few tracks, the theme over extends itself and after more than three minutes there’s a sense of relief when the solos hit. Tony Lakatos blows a gorgeous, breathy tenor solo, Gambale is fluent,expressive and engaging. As the theme returns, bass adds chordal fills and guitar solos dancing over the chords. It’s still about a minute too long though as the second ‘easy-listening’ theme rather dissipates the energy created. A typical track has three minutes of theme, three minutes of solos and three minutes of theme again. It would have made a huge difference to have featured more improvising over the themes by these great improvisers.
‘Parhelia‘ is another tune that combines CTI-style fusion, jazz and intense funk. Slashing and complex horns blast over washes of synth and percussion. Clavinet-like bass and gurgling guitar give way to neat unison guitar/bass parts. Tight funk grooves and car-chase horns and percussion lead into a bubbling Fakanas solo over a menacing groove. Gambale gets to add another dimension of dark energy, building a fluent, expressive solo with a great biting tone as Jackson and Weckl play with the groove like the rhythm section masters they are. There’s time for Weckl to blow, punctuated by horn fills before the labyrinthine theme returns. It’s a great final track.
Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints‘ has a well realized two-bass groove featuring Jackson on fretted and Fakanas on fretless. Labyrintine horn arrangements with excellent use of flute and clever voivings of the melody over dancing drums develop the simple melody at length before a wonderful trombone solo from Andreou given room to express himself over lovely electric piano. Jackson adds some intensity under the alto solo and a fleet Fakanas fretless solo is followed by lovely flute and bass lines heralding another extended reharmonization of the melody.
‘Cuore Vibes (Part One)‘ features the Kinisis’ String Quartet’s expressive playing on Fakanas’ composition and is an effective contrast and ‘Cuore Vibes (Part Two)‘ starts promisingly indeed. There is an engaging sweet melody over a light Latin feel but strangely, given the brass and string resources available, a rather strident brass synth patch that took some getting used to. After three and a half minutes of orchestrations, there is a sweet, tender trumpet solo, a sensitive and expressive piano solo from Forman with lovely strings backing him and Anthony Jackson getting all contrapuntal. This is then followed, however, by a lengthy section where the bemoaned synth patches play a lengthy formal written section that sounds a little academic on first listens.
‘Ionio II‘ has moments of brilliance but again possibly just too much going on in the writing for my taste. It features a lighter, pastoral mood and gorgeous bass melodies but the pastoral mood soon contrasts with fanfare-like classical sections and Gallic-sounding themes until the track threatened to implode under the weight of the writing. After five filmic minutes, something incredibly beautiful and unexpected happens. Mitchell Forman plays a deeply swinging, sensitive piano solo – a joyous release over Jackson’s exquisite walking bass and sensitive drumming – only a minute long but it’s a great minute. At the CD’s best moments, the music is allowed to play itself and breathe rather than being forced through elaborate arrangements.
So why no Anthony Jackson bass solos? I think this was clearly Jackson’s decision and there is plenty of Jackson’s playing of both written and improvised parts in the ensembles. For me, it doesn’t feature enough of the great man in the spotlight. But you have to respect Jackson’s musical perspective – he knows more than most and he has always played exactly what he believed in and he is quite brilliant in a supportive role.
It’s an invigorating and challenging record with moments of brilliance and one that demands repeated, active listening. It’s an essential purchase for fans of Anthony Jackson (and that’s a lot of people) but I doubt it would be the record I would recommend to newcomers to Jackson. I would recommend some of Jackson’s other works, including Chaka Khan’s Naughty, Steve Khan’s The Suitcase or the outrageously brilliant trio with Michel Camilo.
Preview and download Interspirit