Street Date: June 23rd, 2017
To mark the momentous release of his tenth album as a leader, BJ Jansen has assembled an all-star sextet comprised of NEA Jazz Master trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, renowned drummer Ralph Peterson, trumpeter Duane Eubanks, bassist Dezron Douglas and pianist Zaccai Curtis.
Over the course of a dozen carefully chosen selections, the appropriately titled “Common Ground” aims to explore the musical commonalities among six musical titans who each bring with them their diverse backgrounds and distinctive musical legacies. “We had a common interest in keeping with the tradition while still pushing the boundaries,” says Jansen. All members of the sextet have benefitted from stellar mentorships that have colored their idea of the tradition; Jansen by pianist and educator Frank Stagnitta, Marsalis by his father Ellis Marsalis, Peterson by Art Blakey, Eubanks by Mulgrew Miller, and both Curtis and Douglas by Jackie McLean.
On “Common Ground”, this musical melting pot gives way to an eclectic program that offers a little something for everybody. “When I wrote the music, I made sure there was something for each musician to latch on to,” says Jansen. For the album’s two-day recording session last summer, Jansen’s approach was decidedly “hands off” as he allowed each musician to find their own groove. “I was really open to contributions from everybody,” he says. This on-the-spot approach gave way to some of the album’s stand-out moments; one of which is the completely improvised title track. The song “Common Ground” opened up a new portal for Jansen- a change in his compositional process that he is eager to explore.
Change is nothing new to Jansen. Originally from Cincinnati, Jansen first move was to Philadelphia in 2004, where he found “the heart beat of jazz”. After learning on the Philly streets for three years, Jansen relocated once again. This time, he landed in New York City, where he’s been a resident for the past decade. After taking part in the downtown jam-session circuit for over a year, Jansen found that his sound was better received in Harlem. “I spent all my time in Harlem,” Jansen recalls.
As Jansen settled uptown, he became a regular at the legendary St. Nicks; a spot he fondly refers to as “one of the last bastions” of the Harlem jazz club scene. He, along with a crew of Philadelphia musicians, began frequenting and eventually sitting in on the regular Sunday gig held by vocalist TC III, son of drummer Bill “Mr. C” Carney and B3 organist Trudy Pitts. Carney’s classic “Bucketfull of Soul” is re-imagined on “Common Ground” and played as a testament to that distinctive “Philly vibe”. “The first time I heard it I knew I wanted to arrange and record it,” Jansen says.
The Philadelphia/Harlem connection is a common thread throughout the recording. In addition to Jansen’s aforementioned connection to the Pennsylvania city, Duane Eubanks hails from Philadelphia and Ralph Peterson Jr. comes from South Jersey. “My approach is very much so rooted in that Philadelphia tradition,” he says, adding, “…it has been a huge inspiration on me.” It was at these Harlem jam sessions that Jansen, amongst his Philly friends, grew to know Dezron Douglas. Of all the tracks on the album, Jansen’s “Stacey’s Pace” perhaps best encapsulates that Harlem nightlife scene. Ironically, it is also Douglas’ favorite track. “It danced the whole way!” says Douglas.
On “Common Ground”, Jansen does not just pay tribute to important cities and their respective traditions; he also pays tribute to Sonny Clark and Charlie Parker. Jansen’s “Relaxin’ with Jessica” is a contra fact on Clark’s 1957 “Sonny’s Mood” and features some agile piano by Zaccai Curtis and masterful brush work by Ralph Peterson. “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,” Jansen adds. The ode to his sibling, “Angela’s Aggravation”, is based harmonically on the A sections of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”.
Jansen chose the previously recorded “Brandon’s Blues,” as not only a nod to his brother Brandon but as a means for Marsalis to showcase his finesse. Jansen then adds to his list of dedications, by including “Soul Loss”, a track inspired by people he’s lost in the past. He honors them well with gentle, yet intricate playing as the tightness of the rhythm section allows him to do so. As Eubanks notes:
“B.J.’s free way of hearing music is what offsets the tightness of the rhythm section. It’s giving the horn players freedom to explore and do the things you want to do on your own and having the rhythm section hold you grounded”.
With “Common Ground” clocking in as album number 10 for the 36 year old, it can surely be considered something of a milestone- one that is commemorated with an all-star band. In addition, “Common Ground” also speaks to Jansen’s tenacity to keep making music even when the current climate doesn’t make it so easy to do so. Ralph Peterson recalls:
“The first thing I noticed about B.J. was his hustle game. He’s quite the hustler and I respect that.” With the superb “Common Ground”, it seems that Jansen’s relentless hustle might just be paying off.
"The group gets deeper in the groove as they move from one song to the next and the groove is their most effective quality." Read the full feature here.
"If you love well-played high-energy jazz, this will fill the bill." Read the full review here.
"Jansen builds his set on traditional structures and solid well-worn grooves ranging from the sassy 6/8 of "Street Walk" to the cool school swing of "Angela's Aggravation" and "Relaxing With Jessica". Read the full review here.
"Aside from the pedigree of the band, what stands out after repeated listening is the discernable camaraderie among the six musicians and the engaging repertoire." Read the full review here.
GREGORY APPLEGATE EDWARDS
"There is a joy in this music that comes out of the love of playing. The love of listening is our role in this action. I for one am glad to play my part as audience for this one." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"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." Read the full 4.5 star review here.
THE BLURT JAZZ DESK
"Joined by five musical heavyweights, Jansen tears through a dozen tunes – mostly originals – that evoke warm memories of hard bop, West coast cool and other classic jazz styles. Recommended." Read the full reiew here.
BOSTON CONCERT REVIEWS
"They create another barn burning session that is captured on this recording in all its intense up-front energy and tactile crackle." Read the full feature here.
RAUL DA GAMA
JAZZ DA GAMA
"Mr Jansen’s voice is singular, built on the low growl of his baritone saxophone he comes into his own with quivering tremolo, astute dynamics and the lonesome throbbing sound made from great gulps of air which are then circulated through the formidable instrument, finally emerging in round viscous moaning notes and phrases of haunting beauty." Read the full review here.