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This wonderful live recording debut for saxcat Ben Jansson serves to introduce a major talent to the jazz world. Ben Jansson, meet the world. World, this is Ben Jansson!
Ben cut his teeth with the acclaimed Community High School program directed by Mike Grace in Ann Arbor. Since then he has done festival gigs ranging from the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague to the Detroit International Jazz Festival. He's opened for the Count Basie Orchestra, Dave Brubeck and the late Ray Charles. At the 2006 Detroit Jazz Festival he played the first tenor book for Diane Schuur. He's no rookie!
He is possessed of a big warm sound that rocks the swingers and utterly caresses the ballads. For this live gig he assembled a world-class crew of homegrown players. Longtime mate Randy Napoleon has been touring with Michael Buble. Pianist Rick Roe is one of the MSU Professors of Jazz, a renowned Monk scholar and a favorite of bebop legend Frank Morgan. Paul Keller fronts his own big band and small ensembles and recently did a whirlwind TV tour with Diana Krall. Steady swinger Pete Siers has gigged with numerous visiting dignitaries, and even a casual listen will make it clear why he's so well respected.
But stuff like this doesn't happen all the time! These cats come together to serve the music and delight the listener. The rhythm section is solid and Rick and Randy work the middle with complementary aplomb. The solos are sparkling throughout and Ben's own ribbon of invention is downright down. Right!
"Pat's Blues" is Ben's tribute to one of his mentors. Pat La Barbara, and swings mightily! My hit pick is "Tenor For Two." This tribute to Al Cohn and Zoot Sims is a beautiful blue mid-tempo groover. Ben has a terrific way with ballads as you'll discover listening to "My Ideal."
Taken as a whole, this is one of the greatest nights of jazz I have ever witnessed, and everything you could hope from a straight-ahead live recording. Smart and surprising. Relaxed and alert. Playful and earnest. And always - always - a soulful blue undercurrent that moves the music from the stage by way of the ears directly to the heart and the spirit. What more could we as.k for? Only another round of the same!
So drink up folks! This is the music of life itself!
--Marc S. Taras, host of 89.1 Jazz on Saturday nights and Cuban Fantasy on Monday nights on 89.1 FM, WEMU Ypsilanti.