Cincinnati-born baritone saxophonist B.J. Jansen’s tenth album is titled Common Ground
for good reason: his sextet consists of NEA Jazz Master trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis
, drummer Ralph Peterson
, trumpeter Duane Eubanks
, pianist Zaccai Curtis
, and bassist Dezron Douglas
—all of whom revel in improvisation. His group’s shared affinity for jazz in the straight-ahead vein compelled Jansen to employ a “hands-off” tactic as leader, prompting the end product’s great diversity of playing and style. The album has its post- bop pieces, hard bop workouts, Coltrane-esque spirituals, and mellifluous ballads, constituting an album that sounds classic, yet modern in its permissive borrowing from jazz’s past.
From the first muscular bars of “Stacey’s Pace,” the aura of Common Ground is made clear: uncluttered, timeless jazz that harkens back to the all-star sessions of the late ’50s and early ’60s. A nimble bass solo by Douglas ushers in spirited improvisation from the remainder of the group, assembling sounds that likely would’ve reverberated off the walls of the Five Spot in its heyday. Influenced by the harmonic intricacy of Charlie Parker‘s compositions, “Angela’s Aggravation” swings with a bebop approach, featuring a blazing solo by Jansen that conveys unbridled passion without compromising clarity.
Further venturing down jazz’s stylistic evolution, “Street Walk” exudes a post-bop flavor with its angular melody and dynamic structure. Anchored by Peterson’s intrepid, at times explosive, sense of rhythm, players are impelled to solo at their most dexterous. Not lacking in tranquility, ballads “Carol’s Dream” and “Soul Loss” impart the sextet’s softer side, with Jansen filling open space with languid phrasing throughout the latter. As the concluding piece, the improvised title track seems to hit the crux of the album—resolute unity through music. Leading his band from a spiritual introduction to reckless free playing, Jansen’s sinuous trajectory never falters due to this mutual perceptivity.
If the Blue Note and Prestige sessions of old occupy a sizeable portion of your music collection, Common Ground is an essential new release (the album even includes three alternate takes, akin to modern jazz reissues). Backed with a band of the highest caliber, Jansen’s adroitness and appreciation for jazz produces a sound that radiates with classic charm. While his influence lies in the traditional, Jansen’s individuality will surely cement his position in the line of great baritone players.