With the 2016 Portland Jazz Festival built around the legacy of John Coltrane (1926-1967), Javon Jackson’s appearances were reminders of his tenor saxophone hero’s lasting impact on the music. In a Winningstad Theatre concert, Jackson headed a quartet called We Four. The band included a Coltrane colleague, the veteran drummer Jimmy Cobb; pianist George Cables; and the young bassist Corcoran Holt. Jackson kicked off “So What” at a turbo-charged tempo. In his solo he disclosed his ‘Trane credentials and chops in variations on a phrase adapted from Coltrane’s celebrated solo on the piece in the 1959 Miles Davis Kind of Blue
The 87-year-old Cobb uncharacteristically missed a few strokes as he began his solo on the piece but once warmed up, he played the rest of the set with his customary drive, crisp attack and rhythmic ingenuity. Following Jackson’s unadorned reading of the melody of “My One and Only Love,” Cables integrated melodic asides into his solo; right-hand fillips commenting on his own improvisation. It was a surprising and beautiful manifestation of the mind’s ability to create simultaneously on two levels. With impressive arco tone, Holt bowed a solo on the song’s bridge section. Jackson ended the tune with an unaccompanied tag that featured harmonics—the playing of two notes at once. Coltrane mastered the technique, and so has Jackson.
We Four paid tribute through several pieces associated with Coltrane. Highlights:
- Jackson’s huge sound in his lightning foray through the harmonic changes of “If I Were a Bell.”
- Cables, unaccompanied in a gorgeous “Body and Soul,” reining himself in when he realized he was quoting “Prisoner of Love” for the second time.
- Cobb, back in form, exchanging four- and eight-bar phrases with Jackson.
- Jackson at his most Coltraneish on “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Cables’ solo on the piece recalling why Art Pepper nicknamed him “Mr. Beautiful.”
- Jackson on fire in the encore, “My Shining Hour.”
The next night, Jackson was the guest artist with a quartet of musicians who help make Portland one of most interesting jazz towns in the country. Guitarist Dan Balmer (pictured) was the leader, with Tony Pacini piano; Ed Bennett, bass; and Mel Brown, drums. Playing to a packed house at Jimmy Mak’s club, their repertoire was heavy on pieces by pianist Tommy Flanagan, one of Coltrane’s favorite colleagues in the 1950s. The tunes included “Minor Mishap,” the blues “Freight Trane,” and “Eclypso.” Without the leadership duties of the previous evening, Jackson seemed relaxed in the comfortable surroundings of the club. He again played a superb solo on “My Shining Hour.” Pacini was impressive in a vigorously two-handed solo that had a stirring passage of parallel octaves. Everything Balmer played was alive with the energy that has helped make him an Oregon institution.