Cincinnati-born B.J. Jansen, a gifted baritone saxophonist and composer with a 20-year career and a flair for traditional jazz, brings together a devoted sextet that allows him to take the vocabulary from the past into modern escapism. His tenth album, Common Ground, symbolizes what he calls of Harlem/Philadelphia connection (due to where he lived) and is probably his most accomplished work to date.
The distinguished peers that join him here are Delfeayo Marsalis on trombone, Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Zaccai Curtis on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Ralph Peterson on drums.
Stacked with hyped up tones, “Stacey’s Pace”, is a post-bop ecstasy whose energy is channeled uninterruptedly through improvisations that reveal not only rhythmic proficiency but also a strong instinct for melody. This quick-witted nature is equally audible in “Angela’s Aggravation”, an evocative piece with a hard-bop vein. If the chord progression is right up Parker’s alley, the multicolored melodic phrases recall Hank Mobley, Clifford Brown, and Jackie McLean in his early phase.
The form and sound of the blues are very present and the band digs “Brandon’s Blues” with swinging vigor, and also “Bucket Full of Soul” whose generous doses of funk and soul come close to Horace Silver. Enveloped in buoyancy and featuring a deft drum solo by master Peterson, this tune also recalls the Latin sides of Joe Henderson and Lee Morgan.
On “Street Walk”, the group dabbles in a reinvigorating 4/4-tempo dance imbued of groove and fluidity. While Jansen, who shows a powerful connection with his instrument, draws sparkling reactions from Peterson throughout his stimulating improvisation, Eubanks gets the same type of responses from Curtis when he is in control. The solid bass-drums alliance is intensified with extra freedom before the reemergence of the main theme.
Searching for more peaceful ambiances amidst such a high excitement, we have “Carol’s Dream”, whose beautiful melody is distributed by trumpet and baritone, and “Soul Loss”, a ballad enunciated by Jansen and gently quivered by Peterson’s brushwork.
The most irresistible moment of the record takes place when the title track brings the spiritual expansiveness of Coltrane into the scene. Jansen is motivically attractive in his solo, impelling the deep sounds of his baritone to hit us hard in the face. Curtis also excels through serial piano sweeps.
Common Ground is a categorical revival of the mainstream jazz and a vital step in B.J. Jansen’s career. Well adapted to the present times, it comes equipped with sufficient baits to get us stuck in its harmonious sonic net.
01 – Stacey’s Pace 03 – Street Walk 09 – Common Ground