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Anthony Jackson

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May 04, 2012    l   By Ablx Staff

For over 40 years Anthony Jackson has been the bassist's bassist; the man most admired by his peers for his groundbreaking groove work in jazz and pop with the likes of Billy Paul, the O'Jays, Buddy Rich, Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan, Chick Corea, Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, Paul Simon, Al DiMeola, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Steve Khan's Eyewitness, Luther Vandross, Lee Ritenour, Michel Petrucciani, Pat Metheny, Michel Camilo, Mike Stern and Wayne Krantz. Jackson's conception and invention of the 6-string contrabass guitar led to further lauding from his low-end colleagues and resulted in the global standardization of extended-range basses, changing the sound of contemporary music from the bottom up. Additionally, Anthony's landmark use of a pick and phase shifter on the O'Jays' smash, "For the Love of Money," revealed a unique sound and approach that remains one of his signatures. About the only milestone missing from Jackson's remarkable career is a feature album. Being neither a composer, nor known for taking solos, however, Anthony has resisted countless offers (beginning with one from Quincy Jones in 1978). Until now.

INTERSPIRIT'S co-leader, composer/bassist/producer Yiorgos Fakanas, also posesses a sterling resume. Greece's most esteemed bass guitarist, his creative ouevre includes works for stage and film, extensive album production credits, hundreds of sessions as bassist alongside such international lumineries as 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, Tony Lakatos and others, plus a huge body of compositions encompassing everything from solo pieces to full orchestral works, and an extraordinarily comprehensive commitment to music education: Yiorgos heads the most famous new-music conservatory in Greece, with over 600 students and 65 faculty, and has published 17 textbooks. His proposition, in 2007, to realize an album featuring both players, had instant credibility for Anthony. Yiorgos suggested composing contemporary chamber music utilizing a rhythm section, horn section and string quintet. Jackson would then be able to define his role, choosing two of his strengths: Reviving and advancing his picking technique to fully interpret Fakanas's extremely challenging melodies (including double tracking them, often an octave apart), and providing the written as well as his own improvised bass lines behind soloists--a skill at which he is without equal. Fakanas, a supremely accomplished player in his own right, would contribute all (five) of the bass solos, and share the accompaniment duties. The two bassists, possessing very different playing styles, would create a unique character for the record--a strong, rich and aggressive patina, seldom heard elsewhere. Recorded in 2009, in Athens and Connecticut, the CD brings together many of Greece's finest jazz and classical musicians--including alto saxophonist Takis Paterelis and trombonist Antonis Andreou--while starring such international heavyweights as drummer Dave Weckl, guitarist Frank Gambale, keyboardist Mitch Forman and saxophonist Tony Lakatos.

The nine-track disc erupts via the volcanic opener, "Inner Power," with Weckl's double-time fusion-funk groove fueling Jackson's fearless flatpick foray through the tortuous melody. In contrast is Anthony's palm-muted quarter-note swath beneath the soloists--including Yiorgos--further engaged by spontaneous reharmonization--an approach repeated throughout the album. Yiorgos, with equally demanding performance duties, continually demonstrates a composer's command of counterpoint--managing to write (in virtuoso manner) for both basses without having them collide. Anthony and Yiorgos (on fretless) explore Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" through theme and variation, with another recurring device--an extended written bass duo. Next is the extended, deftly-questioning string introduction to "Cuore Vibes", showcasing rich invention from both players throughout its many sections. On all tracks, the duo's differing approaches to their instrument are clearly audible. Summoning Isaac Hayes and Bob James' CTI days, the soul-tinged title track pivots on Jackson's bass line melody and Fakanas's ensemble counterpoint. Meanwhile, the intense and brooding "Seviglia" evolves from a mournful melody section into a hot, sparkling unison march--ending, like it began, in almost tragic fashion.

Another of the duo's fortes is afforded by the Afro-Cuban-edged "Caldera." With Anthony flawlessly flatpicking the main melodies (once again incorporating multiple octaves), Yiorgos, often playing in the same register, achieves an uncanny balance: Two basses standing proud and clear in the midst of a dense and aggressive orchestration. Jackson next delivers powerful, clave-informed fundamental through improvised tumbaos behind the soloists, including a slinky Fakanas. For the graceful "Ionio II," the two bassists intertwine beautifully within the complex chordal writing, each building to hard-swinging walks behind soloists. Surging to a dramatic finish, the disc-closing "Parhelia" finds maestros Fakanas and Jackson teaming for the funky, finger-busting lead, while also boasting Fakanas's finest solo and support work. All credit is due Fakanas for recognizing Jackson's original voice and for creating a touchstone vehicle for the unique talents of them both. Interspirit's impact is immediate, while its deep layers demand repeated listenings. Either way, spread the word: The AJ-YF Duo statement is here!