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, 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 flanger pedal 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 solo 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.
In 2007, Jackson’s close friend, celebrated Greek composer/bassist Yiorgos Fakanas, proposed a project featuring the two bassmen, for which he would compose contemporary chamber music utilizing a rhythm section, horn section and string quintet. Jackson would then be able to define his role. This appealed to Anthony’s uncompromising commitment to artistry, and he consented, 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 improvised bass lines behind soloists—a skill at which he is without equal. Fakanas, highly accomplished in his own right, would contribute all (five) of the bass solos. Recorded in 2009, in Athens and Connecticut, the CD brings together many of Greece’s finest jazz and classical musicians—including alto saxophonist Takis Patarelis 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 divine contrast is Anthony’s palm-muted quarter-note swath beneath Forman’s synth solo, further engaged by Jackson’s spontaneous reharmonization. Anthony and Yiorgos (on fretless) explore Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” through theme and variation, before brightly coloring the pleasing “Cuore Vibes Part 2” with chord melody. On both 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 brooding “Seviglia” recalls Return To Forever and Anthony’s pivotal precision pick work with Al DiMeola, while showcasing his best pick-and-flange tone to date.
Another of Anthony’s fortes is afforded by the Afro-Cuban-edged “Caldera.” First flawlessly performing the twin melodies incorporating multiple octaves, Jackson next delivers clave-informed fundamental through improvised tumbaos behind the soloists. For the graceful “Ionio II,” Anthony calls upon his superior sense of touch and dynamics to blend the more difficult melodic passages into the overall hue, as well as to gradually build to a hard-swinging walk behind Forman’s piano turn. 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 his one-of-a-kind talent. Interspirit’s impact is immediate, while its deep layers demand repeated listenings. Either way, spread the word: Anthony Jackson’s solo statement has arrived!