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Pleasant Valley (1999)

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Javon Jackson

Javon Jackson worked steadily throughout the '90s, developing his own style as a soloist and a leader. In the process, he made a series of remarkably consistent albums, each one finding him exploring another aspect of his hard bop-derived sound and each one being more ambitious than the last. Pleasant Valley, his fifth effort for Blue Note, is on the surface a bit of a retreat from that pattern, since it largely concentrates on groove and soul-jazz. Dig a little a deeper, and it becomes apparent that Pleasant Valley is every bit as rewarding and skilled as Jackson's other efforts for Blue Note. Jackson has turned into a tremendous player, riding the groove, but spinning out interesting solos that always push a little harder than they initially appear to. He may be steeped in hard-bop tradition, but he never uses that as an excuse to be lazy; he's unpredictable and always engaging. The same applies for his supporting band here. Guitarist Dave Stryker, organist Larry Goldins and drummer Billy Drummond all manage to update soul-jazz and bop conventions, creating a sound that's familiar but fresh. Credit should also be given to producer Craig Street, who avoids the pitfalls of contemporary jazz production (namely, clean, septic sound) by keeping things organic and natural. He finds the perfect note for this music, which helps elevate Pleasant Valley to the status of another exceptional Jackson record and one of the more pleasing mainstream jazz albums of 1999. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine