Easy Does It
Palmetto PM-2092

Gussied up in POMO trappings, tenor saxophonist’s Javon Jackson’s EASY DOES IT is actually a retro jazz/funk date, complete with back-beat drumming undulating organ fills and simple rhythms.

Filled with foot tapping rhythms, it’s sociologically fascinating as well, since it reveals that when practically trade-marked Young Lions such as Jackson and guitarist Mark Whitfield get bored with playing neo-bop retreads, they pick up on the music of their youth, which in this case is a melange of pop, jazz and R&B. As a matter of fact, EASY DOES IT is most appealing when it gloms onto the funk and downplays the pop influences. After all, its obvious antecedent isn’t the 1960s deep-dish funk of pioneers like organist Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff, but the later genre that mixed pop and soul hits among the jazz/funk, typified by the instrumental LPs of Grover Washington, Tom Scott and Lonnie Smith, who is on hand here to add his (in this context) Old-School organ playing to the CD.

Another influence is the slick disco-funk of the mid-1970s typified by bands like War and Rufus with Chaka Khan. That’s why vocalist Eve Cornelious is around for two tracks, which may have been designated the singles in the 1970s. Fred Wesley, best known for his stint with James Brown’s JBs, adds his trombone and on one number, vocals to the mix. Metronomic tattoo comes from the sticks of Lenny White, who played jazz with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, but also created some pretty lame pop/funk tracks in the late 1970s on his own and with Return to Forever.

To get an idea of what has to be overcome before the session really grooves, listen to “House Party”. It’s an elemental funk vamp written and vocalized by Wesley that features Jackson seemingly doing his best Philly International (PI) imitation. Sample lyric: “Like to make the disco, but haven’t a thing to wear”[!] A hit for Harold Melvin from the PI stable, “Wake Up Everybody” sung by Cornelious, further reduces the tenorist to sideman status on his own date, leaving him little more to do than play obbligatos behind her singing.

Pure instrumentals fare better, though White’s drumming seems to cycle from shuffle to boogaloo and back again. Plus it seems that the horn players would rather riff in unison than solo. Given his head on tunes like the almost 7½-minute “Kiss”, which he wrote himself though, Jackson, who apprenticed in the Jazz Messengers and now teaches at SUNY in Purchase, N.Y., almost always limits himself to elementary legato riffs that showcase as few tones as White offers patterns. Another Jackson composition, the ballad “Diane”, does allow him to be more expansive, but Whitfield’s simplistic chording and chunky rhythms here and elsewhere will never get him confused with Grant Green or Wes Montgomery.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not — the trombonist played in Count Basie’s band as well as with JB — Wesley can turn out a respectable improvisation, double tonguing and buzzing out some chromatic runs on Marvin Gaye’s “Right On” and Jackson’s “J Soul”. Marvel of the session, though is the seemingly ageless Dr. Lonnie Smith, a longtime associate of Ur-funk altoist Lou Donaldson, honored with the song “Papa Lou” here.

Not only does Smith manage to produce some oscillating funk from what sounds like a pumping 1970s clavinet on “J Soul”, but that in turn pushes Jackson enough so that his tenor playing sounds as if he’s finally taking things seriously. “Right On” and Smith’s own “If You See Kay” shows how the stops and tremolos of the traditional B-3 can be put to proper use — never losing the funk, but managing to make an exciting, jazzy statement at the same time. Jackson may have read about the Chitlin circuit, but Smith performed on it for years, and recorded a couple of live sets in tiny, forgotten clubs there.

Designed as a party record, you can’t fault EASY DOES IT for living up to its diminutive goals — hand clappers and foot stompers will be happy. Yet, with a bit more forethought, Jackson and company could have produced more than this regulation funk date, the way other jazzers have transformed other improv genres.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. If You See Kay 2. Right On 3. House Party*^ 4. Papa Lou 5. Kiss 6. Diane 7. Wake Up Everybody* 8. Easy Does It 9. J-Soul

Personnel: Fred Wesley (trombone, vocals^); Javon Jackson (tenor saxophone); Dr. Lonnie Smith (organ); Mark Whitfield (guitar); Lenny White (drums); Eve Cornelious (vocals*)