Blues & Synonyms
Jason Jenkins has been a major musical force in Virginia for quite a few years. As a bassist who is also a skilled composer, he leads jazz groups in clubs and on recordings, is a valuable studio musician including on soundtracks, and works steadily as both a leader and a sideman. He is proof that world-class jazz talent exists and even flourishes outside of the major metropolitan areas.
Blues & Synonyms is at least Jason Jenkins’ fifth recording as a leader. Most of the selections find the bassist joined by his long-time associates guitarist Alan Parker and drummer Billy Williams along with pianist Toru Dodo or (on two songs) tenor-saxophonist Charles Owens. Two other selections (“Bluesville” and Duke Pearson’s “Honey Bee”) feature Jenkins in a quartet with altoist James Gates, pianist Nathan Hittle, and drummer Keith Willingham.
The music is straight-ahead modern jazz with consistently inventive solos, stimulating accompaniment behind the lead voices, and strong melodies. Kenny Drew’s “Bluesville” begins the set with soulful playing by Gates, Hittle, Willingham and Jenkins that is very much in the early 1960s jazz tradition. “Dear Old Stockholm” benefits from a faster than usual tempo and some arranged transitions, inspiring concise and cooking solos all around. Jobim’s classic bossa nova “Once I Loved” is particularly notable for Alan Parker’s tasteful and melodic playing and each musician has a chance to be in the spotlight during Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin.”
“Alright Okay, You Win/Bracey’s Blues” is a change of pace, featuring some fine blues singing by Desiree Roots. “Invitation” has one of the strongest piano solos of the date by Toru Dodo, inspiring guitar and bass statements that are not far behind. The soulful boogaloo “Sweet Honey Bee” is a bit reminiscent of Lou Donaldson in the late 1960s, Cannonball Adderley’s “Wabash” receives a welcome revival, and the enjoyable program concludes with Charlie Parker’s uptempo blues “Bigfoot.”
While he takes occasional solos, Jason Jenkins sounds quite happy to be in the background, uplifting the music while clearly enjoying the playing of his sidemen. Anyone who enjoys straight ahead jazz will certainly want to pick up his Blues & Synonyms.
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian