Javon Jackson

Déjà Vu
(Solid Jackson)

With so many stressors this year, listening to jazz classics at the right moment can soften hearts like the sight of a flower, rising from a dilapidated sidewalk. Tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson offers such a respite as he leads a quartet through well-worn compositions on Déjà Vu.

The exploration, however, contains some interesting destinations that veer from many standards-heavy albums. The band turns in a gorgeous reading of Vernon Duke’s “Autumn In New York,” which functions as an ideal vehicle for Jackson’s Merlot-flavored tone, economical phrasing and graceful improvisations. Then there’s an admirable romp through Thelonious Monk’s “Raise Four,” where pianist Jeremy Manasia escapes the trap of mimicking the composer by offering a billowing solo.

There, too, are comparably lesser-known pieces, like Wayne Shorter’s hard-bop swinger “Venus Di Mildew” and a pair of Cedar Walton tunes—the strutting “In The Kitchen” and elegant “Martha’s Prize”—that enliven Déjà Vu while demonstrating both Jackson’s canonical knowledge and interpretive command.

The bandleader does contribute one original to the proceedings, “T.J.,” a marvelous ballad on which Manasia initiates a wistful, almost cinematic melody, underscored by bassist David Williams and drummer McClenty Hunter’s assured medium-tempo propulsion. What’s more intriguing about the song, though, is that the leader doesn’t perform on it; Jackson makes his presence known as a composer. It’s a gambit that often only readily identifiable writers can pull off. Here, “T.J.” teases future albums that might focus more on Jackson’s compositions, as well as his assured saxophone playing and bandleading talents.