Javon Jackson worked steadily throughout the '90s, developing his own style as a soloist and a leader. In the process, he made a series of remarkably consistent albums, each one finding him exploring another aspect of his hard bop-derived sound and each one being more ambitious than the last. Pleasant Valley, his fifth effort for Blue Note, is on the surface a bit of a retreat from that pattern, since it largely concentrates on groove and soul-jazz. Dig a little a deeper, and it becomes apparent that Pleasant Valley is every bit as rewarding and skilled as Jackson's other efforts for Blue Note. Jackson has turned into a tremendous player, riding the groove, but spinning out interesting solos that always push a little harder than they initially appear to. He may be steeped in hard-bop tradition, but he never uses that as an excuse to be lazy; he's unpredictable and always engaging. The same applies for his supporting band here. Guitarist Dave Stryker, organist Larry Goldins and drummer Billy Drummond all manage to update soul-jazz and bop conventions, creating a sound that's familiar but fresh. Credit should also be given to producer Craig Street, who avoids the pitfalls of contemporary jazz production (namely, clean, septic sound) by keeping things organic and natural. He finds the perfect note for this music, which helps elevate Pleasant Valley to the status of another exceptional Jackson record and one of the more pleasing mainstream jazz albums of 1999.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine (All Music Guide)
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Some years ago, I was rather startled to hear young jazz musicians referring to bebop as "the tradition." Back when I was a boy, bebop had been the cutting edge of revolution. Since then I have come to realize that there's much affection and respect in this word usage - and quite a bit of musical validity. To Javon Jackson, who once left a very good school called Berklee in order to spend several essential years training at an even more credentialed school named Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, it means that the bebop tradition is the solid underpinning that makes you feel secure when you leap off in whatever direction your creative impulses take you. Jackson is still a young man, in his early thirties, but he has paid his dues and served his apprenticeship. He has made four previous albums for Blue Note, and they haven't particularly resembled each other; this one takes him even further. It should be noted that at this writing this close-knit quartet is Javon's working group. The vagaries of the jazz business make keeping a band together an always-open question, but right now this definitely sounds like a band, which means to me that this tenor player sounds like a leader - which is a good and not at all usual characteristic.
I had previously been aware of only one of Javon's colleagues here: the excellent young drummer, Billy Drummond, has worked on a couple of sessions of mine, so I was anticipating the rare combination of firmness and lightness - an aggressive beat, that never seems heavy - that is his strength. But Larry Goldings was someone and something new to me. It's easy enough for an organist to play the funk card, staying in the grease groove routinely associated with the instrument. But an organist who remembers to be the keyboard player in the band, in the much broader sense that involves, is contributing a lot more. That's clearly the case here. As for Dave Stryker: well, I make some guitar players uneasy; I was Wes Montgomery's first producer, and not likely to let them forget it. Dave definitely has nothing to fear from me; he has his own voice and it's a really interesting and valid one, and I feel no need to make comparisons. If we didn't live in such a hurry-up world that anyone who isn't a bandleader within six months of his debut gig feels like a has-been, I'd suggest that - working with this particular Blakey alumnus - these young men are into a training program that could very possibly lead to a future as front liners. I dislike album notes that presume to tell you all about what you're listening to, but I can't avoid mentioning three selections. Either the artist or his producer had the guts to open with a ballad (by a pretty fair composer named Ellington), and it works very well. I love this version of Joe Zawinul's "Hippodelphia" because the tenor has to remind you of Wayne Shorter, but it's a wonderful homage, not at all an imitation. And it has been more than a quarter century since I tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the late Gene Ammons to record the strong Stevie Wonder tune, "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" - Gene's solo wouldn't have sounded anything like this one, but the way Jackson swaggers through the melody sure reminds me of Jug!
In a recent conversation, Javon noted that we had initially met in San Francisco a decade ago, during the very first week he was on the road with Blakey. This suddenly explained why I have always thought of him as shy and somewhat withdrawn - at our first encounter he was, quite understandably, busy being terrified of his surroundings and his boss. However, after careful listening to this record, I will never again make the mistake of using such adjectives about this hard-swinging and joyously aggressive player.
- Orrin Keepnews