Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The music of vibist Milt Jackson evokes a softer, less-complicated era of jazz that was characterized by quiet introspection and simmering emotion. Appering Wednesday night (through Sunday) at Blues Alley, Jackson and his group featured bluesy ballads and smooth, up-beat numbers that soothed the soul like warm brandy on a cool night.
Jackson, who was a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet until 1974, is an intriguing performer. As the first notes of a ballad were played by the pianist, he stood quietly, savoring the sound, then squeezed out the first phrase of the melody, his eyebrows crinkling with feeling. When the beat quickened, he paced about the stage nervously, then pounced on the vibes unleashing a blistering barrage of notes that seemed to fly in all directions, only to be pulled back by the strong rhythm.
He began the set with the classic "Summertime," spicing the familiar theme with tasty improvisational flourishes. The rest of the songs were played in a similar manner - nothing fancy, no tricky time signatures or dissonant harmonies - just flat-out playing with an excitement that was tempered by his exquisite taste and restraint.
Milt Jackson is a classic and classy jazz performer. While his playing lacks the instrumental thrills and intellectual posturing of the newer, more electronic jazz musicians, his sense of balance and humanity are equally as effective.