Jessica Jones Quartet | Nod | NA1039

Jessica Jones tenor sax & piano | Tony Jones saxophones | Ken Filiano bass | Derrek Phillips – drums. Special Guests: Joseph Jarmanbass clarinet & alto sax | Connie Crotherspiano | Mark TaylorFrench Horn | Candace Jonesvocals

Tracklist: 1.Bird’s Word 2. Little Melonae 3. Happiness Is 4. Waynopolis 5. Love and Persevere 6. Manhattan 7. These Foolish Things 8. Platform Shoes – Appocalypse

There is a small, specialized subgenre of jazz

that occurs when out-cats decide to come in from the cold and play it (relatively) straight for a tune or two. (Think Eric Dolphy exhausting “You Don’t Know What Love Is” on Last Date, or Alber Ayler croaking “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”) The fun comes from the tension created by turmoil under voluntary temporary restraint. Nod has some of that tension (and fun). Jessica Jones and her husband, Tony Jones, are perhaps the only avant-garde, tenor-sax playing man-and-wife tandem in jazz. Their 15-year track record revolves around experimental composition, freer forms and collective improvisation. But the Joneses planned Nod as “a tribute to the jazz guys (and gals) in the lineage.” The result is an approachable, intriguing album, full of surprise and positive energy.

The quartet includes drummer Derrek Phillips and the adventurous, articulate bassist Ken Filiano. On originals like “Manhattan” and covers like Jackie McLean’s “Little Melonae” (in a stark, aslant arrangement by Tony), this ensemble is a lean machine, with both Jessica and Tony shooting sharp, impulsive, coherent ideas. Nod’s program is varied by the addition of guests on five of the eight tracks: Connie Crothers on piano, Joseph Jarman on reeds and vocals, Mark Taylor on French horn and the Jones’ children on vocals. Jessica’s “Waynopolis” is an in-depth 11-minute “nod” to Wayne Shorter, with solos by Taylor, one of the tenors (presumably Jessica), and Filiano – all liberated, all relevant to the Shorter-esque subject matter. Crothers’ “Bird’s Word” is another loose, springy exercise, interrupted and stimulated by the composer’s jarring, clanging piano. The Jones’ worst decision was to have Joseph Jarman sing on “Happiness Is.” Their best decision was to record at Systems Two in Brooklyn, where so many good-sounding albums come from. – Thomas Conrad, JazzTimes

For the past fifteen years, saxophonist and pianist Jessica Jones has been performing with her Quartet, which serves as a vehicle for the progressive jazz originals composed by Jessica and fellow tenor player and husband Tony Jones. In addition to her Quartet, Jessica plays with Joseph Jaman’s Dojo Band, the Jarman-Chalfant Lifetime Visions Orchestra, and other jazz and improvisation-oriented ensembles that frequent the landscapes of such New York City venues as Barbes, Tixe, and Tonic. Jessica has worked with such varied artists as Cab Calloway, Bo Diddley, Cecil Taylor, Steve Coleman, and Don Cherry as well as many Haitian, Calypso and African pop bands. These influences are apparent in her music which derives from the tradition of Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, using structured original compositions as a framework for freer improvisation. Combining these elements with the unique voices of band members whose experiences are equally diverse leads to music infused with the energy and creativity of new textures yet remaining firmly rooted in the jazz tradition.

The Jessica Jones Quartethas played in the Knitting Factory Festival in New York City, and the Eddie Moore Jazz Festival in Oakland, California when the group headlined with special guest Don Cherry. The group has been featured in venues on the east and west coasts of the US, and released their first CD, Family, on Nine Winds Records to critical acclaim. A follow up to their first album on New Artists, “Nod” their second CD on the label, “Word”, features two versions of the Jessica Jones Quartet augmented by poets Abe Maneri and Arisa White and vocalist Candace Jones. The quartet continues to record and perform based out of Brooklyn, New York.

Much more on Jessica Jones can be found here…

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3 thoughts on “Jessica Jones Quartet | Nod | NA1039

  1. One of the first things apparent about this album is that it doesn’t dwell in any particular time zone.

    Jessica Jones’ third quartet album, Nod , opens with an ensemble that sounds deliberately muffled like a 1950s bebop recording, progresses to uber-funk treatment of Jackie McLean and drifts into a bit of vocal poetry appropriate for the Vietnam War peace protests Jones took part in at Berkeley—all within the first three songs. True to her Berkley roots it’s intelligent stuff, but sometimes suffers the same downfall of protesters who get attention by staging rallies on freeways that block traffic—good intentions that don’t always find a receptive audience.

    With songs and styles covering everything from swing to hip-hop this is very much a multi-generational album, especially since Jones, a tenor sax and pianist, relies on family members for contributions. Her husband Tony also plays tenor sax, and daughters Candance and Levi each contribute vocals on a song. It’s also indicative of Jessica and Tony Jones’ musical background, rooted largely in 1960s free jazz but extending from swing to modern.

    The retro sound on the opening “Bird’s Word” is more concept than achievement, but the sound engineering enters the modern age as one of the Jones (I’m guessing it’s Jessica, since she headlines the album) shows right away a hard-bop set of chops that lets the listener know this won’t be a shallow album. Guest pianist Connie Crothers pushes the time machine thing ahead just a bit with a touch of free jazz indulgence in her solo before (I’m guessing) the other Jones chimes in somewhat less impressively on sax.

    The retro chorus thing continues briefly on McLean’s “Little Melonae,” but it matters little as Filano and Phillips announce clearly and forcefully some time is going to be spent in the modern age. Filano’s groove-oriented bass line provides the perfect compliment to a masterfully wild backing by Phillips on drums although, perhaps fearing too much intensity, both slip back and forth between traditional and modern in their backing.

    The group finds a pleasant swing groove on “Happiness Is” and stays there – until things unexpectedly turn ugly with a discordant bit of group poetry at the end. The atonal vocalists offer a choppy “happiness is seeing us all coming together” peace message while the instruments do some 60s-era free blowing indulging. OK, credit them for trying something different, but “A Love Supreme” it ain’t.

    Things remain like that for much of the album, largely dwelling the older genres of jazz with occasional visits to the present occurring just as the listener gets comfortable. Some journeys are more welcome than expected. Candace Jones contributes a fine contemporary vocal performance on a live version of the ballad “These Foolish Things.” And Phillips take his turn on vocals during the closing hip-hop track “Platform Shoes – Apocalypse which, despite being rather at odds with the much of the album, somehow feels appropriate for dropping the listener off in the present after all the time travel.

    The players, including guests on more than half of the tracks, generally accord themselves in solid if not spectacular fashion. Mark Taylor’s French horn is particularly lyrical on the Wayne Shorter-inspired ballad “Waynopolis,” and his bass clarinet contributes to an unexpectedly rich free jazz canvas with the quartet on “Love And Persevere.” One annoyance: Since Jessica and her husband both play tenor sax it’s not possible to assess who’s contributing where—although that does fit into the communal spirit she promotes.

    Nod might be a bit too schizophrenic for many general listeners, but it’s a rewarding listen for those willing to invest the mental energy necessary to hear how the range of players treat the various of styles. That’s probably a plus for a relatively obscure artist competing in the crowded solid-but-not-must-have album category, perhaps pushing it into “worth checking out” status for the latter group of listeners even if it costs her a few more conventional ones.

  2. The title of the Jessica Jones Quartet’s latest CD, Nod, is “Don” spelled backwards, a reverse tipping of the hat to Don Cherry, the trumpeter who ran with Ornette Coleman back in the early days of free jazz, on several groundbreaking albums of the genre. But here’s the rub: the set doesn’t have Cherry’s sound; if you’re looking for parallels, Nod runs much more along the lines of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, with a loose, devil-may-care approach that draws from multiple sources to create its sound. Part of that comes from the input of Art Ensemble member Joseph Jarman’s distinctive contribution to two cuts here, playing alto sax and vocalizing—with Jessica Jones’ eleven year old son, Levi—on Jarman’s “Happiness Is”; and his dueting with Mark Taylor’s French horn, with his bass clarinet, on “Love and Persevere.” Worth the price of admission, those two cuts by themselves.

    And though they flirt seriously with the free jazz sound, with Connie Crothers bringing in her Cecil Taylor-like piano on two cuts, Jessica and company also go deep into bop, with a dark, brooding take on Jackie McLean’s “Little Melonae,” and a nod to saxophonist Wayne Shorter on the disc’s highlight, the eleven minute plus “Waynepolis,” another brooder that features a very compelling bass solo by Ken Filiano, who has graced some of the most interesting free jazz sets of the past few years, among them saxophonist Fred Hess’s Extended Family (Tapestry, ’02) and The Long and Short of It, (Tapestry,’03), as well as Avram Fefer’s Shades of the Muse (CIMP, ’03). Filiano’s sound is big and fat and rubbery, ominous at times, and it seems to be the glue that holds the set together, music that spans several genres, including hip hop—acoustic/organic style—and standards, on “Platform Shoes—Apocalypse” and “These Foolish Things,” respectively.

    The focus may be a bit blurred—by design—but the sounds, like those of the Art Ensemble of Chicago—are full of life and vibrancy and joy, even on the darker tunes. Even more so on those, perhaps.

  3. Elegantly bridging the gap between free playing and more structured work, tenor saxophonist/pianist Jessica Jones and her quartet deliver a record that bucks convention while, remarkably, remaining somewhat true to it. Influenced as much by the Art Ensemble of Chicago as by Wayne Shorter and Jackie McLean, Nod comfortably traverses a variety of territories, including open-ended improvisation, straight-ahead swing, and even a bit of hip hop.

    With a r’sum’ that includes work with artists as diverse as Bo Diddley and Cecil Taylor, not to mention years spent with Haitian and calypso bands, it’s no surprise Jones’ view is expansive. That she chooses to work in partnership with her husband, tenor player Tony Jones, means that a lifetime together pursuing more than just music has created a deeper simpatico. The only real problem is that, with neither player being that established, it is virtually impossible to know who is playing what. Still, the tenor work on the record is of a high standard, generally reaching outwards while still maintaining an anchor inside the box.

    Bassist Ken Filiano has, of course, a solid reputation with artists including the similarly-disposed Fred Hess and a number of more outer-reaching West Coast players. What is perhaps most remarkable is the appearance of drummer Derrek Phillips, best known for his work over the past couple years with eight-string guitar groove-meister Charlie Hunter. Even on an album that is considerably freer than his work with Hunter, he demonstrates the same unfailing sense of time and groove. Jessica Jones’ tribute to Wayne Shorter, “Waynopolis,” swings along in a relaxed way that sets the groundwork from fine solos by both Joneses as well as guest Mark Taylor on French horn.

    There’s even a certain element of new music inflection to some of the work, specifically “Love and Persevere,” which again features Taylor as well as Art Ensemble returnee Joseph Jarman on bass clarinet. More creative music than free playing, the tune demonstrates the breadth of Jones’ concept.

    But for the most part, there’s a strong sense of tradition in what the quartet does. The only real distraction on an otherwise fine contemporary album that blurs the boundaries between free playing and post bop is the inclusion of vocals on a number of tunes. The lyrics to “Happiness Is” reflects their hippie roots: “Happiness is seeing us all coming together, people of the sun understanding we are one.” As engaging as the acoustic soul/funk closer “Platform Shoes – Apocalypse” is, Phillips’ rap is superfluous.

    Still, with a programme of clever originals and personal reworking of Jackie McLean’s “Little Melonae” and the standard “These Foolish Things,” Jones and her quartet have created an album that, for all its left leanings, is remarkably centred and maintains a surprising level of accessibility.

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