Oliver Jackson

The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions

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Black and Blue, a French jazz label rather than a state of being following a physical interrogation, made beaucoup use of drummer Oliver Jackson for a bit less than a decade beginning in 1977. The title of The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions could theoretically have something to do with any number of projects he was involved in during this tenure, including backing up a series of classic jazz bandleaders.

Reissue collections of all of the material released by this label happen to share the title of The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions as well, meaning Jackson's attempts at definitive drumming can be found on many other titles in this series besides the volume released under his own name.

Featuring a total of 11 tracks, the 2004 set does not make much of an attempt to represent the totality of Jackson's releases as a leader for the label, even though doing so would not have required prowling through that much material.

Most of the efforts of this drummer when assuming leadership involve a traditional piano trio, the instrumentation presented throughout The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions. The drummer does not play in such a way that would quickly establish his leadership status, not that this could really be done in this format without mucking it up. An entire LP featuring pianist Cliff Smalls starts things off; the original running order of tracks is retained. The focus is on standards, the concluding "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise" allowing Smalls an opportunity to make big with the rhythmic accents. Jackson allows many nice moments to emerge simply by not being overly demonstrative.

Two tracks from 1975 with goony, self-referencing titles are presented in a concluding flashback of sorts. "Jackson Is Wigging" plays with both the drummer's name and that of pianist Gerry Wiggins, with whom Jackson also recorded in 1977 in a trio with bassist Major Holley. The same rhythm section of Jackson and Holley played on B.B. King's Grammy-winning Blues 'N' Jazz effort from 1983, but here the bassist is Bill Pemberton. He is not in good shape from the title of "Bill Is Bleeding." He plays as if getting shot or at the very least getting slashed was a prerequisite for playing a walking bassline -- an appealing concept for the more violent non-jazz fans.

The latter would not be the proper audience for the works of such a serious and seasoned jazzman as Jackson, who by the time of the Black and Blue relationship had gone from the bebop scene to the modern jazz impressionism of Yusef Lateef to a kind of swing enclave hiding behind beakers of cafe au lait in Paris.

By then Jackson had put in time with many a piano trio, including that of Teddy Wilson, whom Smalls resembles in no tiny way on titles such as "Love for Sale." The rambunctious take on "One O'Clock Jump" brings out the best in bassist Leonard Gaskin and is perhaps the highlight of the set. It might have been nice to have included a track or two from Jackson's quintet session Billie's Bounce, originally released in 1984.

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