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D.D. Jackson, ...so far   RCA Victor
Renee Rosnes, Art & Soul   Blue Note
By Chuck Obuchowski

    Few would argue that Oscar Peterson ranks as Canada’s number one jazz export, although Diana Krall’s rapid rise to stardom finds the singing keyboardist in the spotlight more often these days than Peterson, one of her acknowledged musical mentors. Yet, even as the Krall hype snowballs, a number of other Canadian-born pianists have quietly assumed promising bandleader roles after developing their talents for years in the groups of veteran jazz performers. D.D. Jackson and Renee Rosnes are among the finest of the current Canadian wave to have graduated from sideplayer status; both have noteworthy new releases out on major US labels.

Pullen’s Protege Goes It Alone

    D.D. Jackson is no stranger to the recording studio, having led six dates during the past five years for Montreal-based Justin Time Records. However, ...so far stands as his first completely solo recorded project---and what a remarkable project it is! Jackson’s prodigious technique, honed over a lifetime of classical piano studies, has never been more apparent, nor have his improvising skills been put to such a rigorous test.
    Doubters are directed to "Camiliano," an homage to fellow ivory pummeler Michel Camilo. Jackson takes the listener on a whirlwind tour through the West Indies, complete with hurricane-force fingerwork. Even at this breakneck tempo, his keyboard work retains clarity and precision. But the composer never lets technique obscure emotional immediacy. Therein lies the genius of this composition, and of the album as a whole—it achieves a delicate balance between sensuality and intellect, between freedom and restraint.
    The passion unleashed on pieces like "Camiliano" evokes memories of Don Pullen, who took Jackson under his wing when he first arrived in New York a decade ago. Pullen became an influential tutor, and he introduced Jackson to many of the improvisers with whom he would subsequently make his mark, most notably reedman David Murray. Earlier this year, the 32-year-old pianist joined the latest incarnation of Murray’s octet; the band has been touring with new arrangements of John Coltrane’s music and promises a studio recording in February. Jackson’s second RCA date, a sextet project featuring young sax dynamo James Carter, will be issued next spring.
    Jackson acknowledges the contributions of other jazz masters on ...so far, interpreting tunes either written by or for Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell and Jaki Byard. He also includes original compositions written in honor of two of his primary classical music influences: composer Claude Debussy ("Playground") and performer Vladimir Horowitz ("Round and Round"). Each of these solo pieces conveys some essence of the artist it honors, but the pianist’s real triumph here is that each performance bears his own unmistakable imprint.
    D.D. Jackson’s ...so far is essential listening for anyone interested in experiencing creative directions in jazz piano artistry at the dawn of a new century.

Rosnes Romps with Soulful Art

    Connecticut concert-goers got a taste of this woman’s "art and soul" July 25th when she joined Jon Faddis and friends for a jubilant tribute to Dizzy Gillespie at the conclusion to this year’s Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz. In a set dominated by blazing bop, fingersnapping Afro-Cuban sounds and gutbucket R&B—each of which she handled with ease—Renee Rosnes managed to mesmerize the Bushnell Park crowd with her eloquent, understated reading of the evergreen "Body and Soul," sans horns.
    And so it is with Art & Soul, the new trio outing by this transplanted Canadian, who now resides in New York with her husband (and drummer of choice) Billy Drummond. Aided by bassist Scott Colley, the wife and husband percussion team presents 10 mesmerizing performances on the pianist’s sixth Blue Note recording. Most emit a warm glow that recalls the inspired impressionism of trio masters like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett; a few, however—like "Blues Connotation," an Ornette Coleman favorite—exude high-beam intensity, assuring that the listener will be kept alert during this hour-long jazz journey.
    Rosnes is an excellent composer, as the sophisticated swing of "Romp" and the playful "Little Spirit" attest, but this time around, she has chosen primarily to arrange other artists’ material, with some fascinating results. The Beatles’ "With a Little Help from My Friends" becomes a gospel-inflected blues number. Vocalist Dianne Reeves and multi-instrumentalist Richard Bona help transform Wayne Shorter’s "Footprints" into a powerful percussive paean to our ancient African ancestors. The Rosnes trio even covers Bela Bartok, pushing the folk roots of the Hungarian composer’s "Children’s Song No. 3" to the forefront, then tweaking the hypnotic, repetitive melody with enticing jazz rhythms, thereby producing a most unusual cultural crossover.
    Art & Song gives Rosnes--the keyboardist—plenty of space to shine. Still, the best work here doesn’t match her finest recorded moments, which have usually come during her own pieces, in the company of a strong horn player. In the past, interaction with the likes of Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter has coaxed forth this pianist’s most vital, most original improvisations.
    Although it may not be her strongest album to date, Art & Soul does reveal several significant facets of Renee Rosnes: the first-class arranger with catholic musical tastes, the bold trio leader who allows group interplay to guide her instincts, and the brilliant music-poet capable of conveying the range of human expression through simple melodies, harmonies and rhythms.

Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 1999

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