Saturday, July 1, 2017

USA: B.J. Jansen-Common Ground(2017)

B.J. Jansen | Common GroundAs divisiveness has flourished in a land bereft of its melting pot ideals and the gulf between wealth and poverty has widened among its citizenry, the winds of change must blow. Change that embraces the oneness of humanity, rather than demonizing otherness. Bearing witness to the machinations of otherness throughout his life, prolific baritone saxophonist B.J. Jansen seeks to express life's dualities: the sacred and profane; the learned and the intuitive that breathe spirit, soul, and swing into his music. Gifted with a cache of cassette tapes by his father, a music buff who’d played saxophone in high school, ten year old Bernard George Jansen III (BJ) got his first taste of jazz in 1991. The tapes, some Bird and Gerry Mulligan, whet an appetite in the Cincinnati youngster… he was hooked. BJ Jansen seeks to express life's dualities—the sacred and profane; the learned and the intuitive that breathe spirit, soul, and swing into his music. On his tenth recording as a leader, BJ delves into finding common ground by bringing together a sextet comprised of magnificent horns and a tight rhythm section—three “young guns” (all born in 1981) and three respected members of the “old guard,” (all under 55, hardly old). Mentored by pianist and educator, Frank Stagnitta, he has assembled a group of musicians who too have benefited from stellar mentorship—NEA Jazz Master, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis by his father Ellis Marsalis, Jr., Master drummer Ralph Peterson by Art Blakey, trumpeter Duane Eubanks by Mulgrew Miller, and both bassist Dezron Douglas and pianist Zaccai Curtis by Jackie McLean. Selecting compositions that play to the strengths of each musician, he takes a "hands-off" approach as a leader, creating an open space for each to find his groove. Utilizing millennial strategy, he successfully crowd-funded the project, demonstrating his tenacity and drive; affirming the demand for this music. Although Cincinnati wasn’t exactly a jazz incubator, BJ studied jazz theory in high school. By age fifteen, avocation became vocation. He began to explore improvisation and attended Jamey Aebersold’s renowned summer jazz camps before entering the University of Louisville’s School of Music. It was there that the undergraduate first met master’s candidate Delfeayo Marsalis who says, “I was always impressed with his sound. The maturity, the tone quality and how he approaches the music.” So much so, that after some playful ribbing between the two led to BJ breaking out a few WWF moves and “Del” heading to the chiropractor, Delfeayo wrote a tune called “The BJ Smack-down,” which he invited BJ to perform on for his final recital. BJ began on the alto saxophone, but with a preponderance of alto players at the university, a professor looked at him and said: “put him on the bari, (E flat, like the alto) he looks like he can hold the instrument.” Initially resistant, he soon came to enjoy the sound, realizing he’d found his voice. With fewer players able to handle the heft of the horn, he too found a competitive advantage. He also found himself butting heads in academia and the affluence there that he felt could stifle the idiom. “You can teach technique and pedagogy and scales. You teach someone history but you can’t teach them to be creative, to be an artist.” He gravitated toward “the seasoned musicians” outside the academic setting, mostly African American musicians at the juke joint, Sylvia’s Lounge. “I played with a (Hammond) B3 organist; it was my first exposure to being free with what I’m doing musically.” He reveled in “the audience participation, the encouragement that is part of black American music.” It evoked a feeling of belonging he’d experience, again and again, a white boy, swinging hard in spots like the Clef Club in Philadelphia and St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem. Bringing his Midwest work ethic to the East Coast in 2004, immersed his entrepreneurial mind into MBA studies in Music Management at William Paterson University and his swinging soul into the Philly music scene, starting the group CONJURA. “There was always a real brotherhood with the Philadelphia musicians,” he says. Through CONJURA band mate, Mike Boone, he would meet Philly native Duane Eubanks. By the time he moved to New York in 2007 and became a regular at St. Nick’s, he’d developed a camaraderie with many other Philly cats who jammed there - vocalist TC III, son of drummer Bill “Mr. C” Carney and B3 organist Trudy Pitts. In fact, BJ put his funky spin on the Carney penned "Bucketful of Soul," Trudy Pitts and Mr. C’s grooving 1968 classic. “The first time I heard this tune, I knew I wanted to arrange and record it,” BJ says. “Something to dance to, this soulful boogaloo classic is the perfect improvisational vehicle for (Philadelphian) Duane Eubanks and Ralph Peterson,” who, alongside BJ’s gut-bucket solo…tear it up. "Stacey's Pace" is based on a minor blues in the key of F minor, inspired by the fluid intensity of BJ’s Piscean friend Stacey. With horns swinging straight out the gate, the first track of the recording declares that the bandleader is a brass man. But Dezron, a Pisces also, opens up the improvisations with a dancing bass solo. A favorite of his, he says “It danced the whole way.” In the wistful reverie that is “Carol’s Dream” (written by Frank Stagnitta during his CONJURA stint) “the harmonically lush structure” wafts over a “Latin double-time.” This pretty tune sings with supple solos and gorgeously synced horns. Another composition by “dear friend and mentor, Frank,” “Street Walk” was inspired by Stagnitta’s time in New York, though he never recorded it until joining CONJURA. “I enjoy the tune so much, I decided to rerecord it with a completely new cast of musicians,” BJ says. BJ chose the previously recorded “Brandon’s Blues,” a “bluesy, soulful and guttural,” nod to his brother Brandon as "a vehicle for Delfeayo to showcase his prowess on the slow blues.” BJ dedicated this tune “to all brothers from different mothers.” The elegiac “Soul Loss” is a “new composition based on three key centers—C, E, G#—which frame the harmonic movement and happen to be symmetrically placed Major thirds apart; thus, splitting the octave into equal thirds,” BJ explains. Inspired by people he's lost in the past three years, BJ honors them well with hauntingly doleful playing as the rhythm section gently grounds him. BJ crafted “Angela’s Aggravation” for his sister Angela. He based this ode to sibling annoyance “harmonically on the A sections of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation,” he says. “Ironically, the beginning phrase is difficult to play for brass players and continues to be their aggravation at each gig.” “Relaxin’ with Jessica” is based on Sonny Clark’s 1957 tune “Sonny’s Mood.” With its frolicking horns, Zaccai's nimble piano, and Ralph Peterson’s masterful brush work, the “the relaxed and swinging tune embodies the traditional Philly Sound that was widely heard on Blue Note recordings in the 50’s and 60’s,” BJ says. “Common Ground” BJ says is, “an open improvisation, it’s all about finding common ground.” Zaccai offers, “BJ’s really a free player and it led me into different directions—new ways of looking at some stuff.” Dezron enthuses, “I loved doing that. BJ got kinda wild with his horn and that was a nice moment.” With a spiritual intro hearkening to Coltrane’s “Psalm,” it gradually builds as BJ’s commanding presence veers into ecstatic frenzy and bent keys. BJ acknowledges the influence of bari players Harry Carney, Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams, Gerry Mulligan, Nick Brignola, Ronnie Cuber and Gary Smulyan but stops short of emulation, moving toward a sound distinctly his.

“I am really trying to be what I am within the tradition of the music.”