If tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson's new album garners a lot of airplay -- something it clearly deserves -- the response will probably have a lot to do with his infectious interpretations of Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" and Al Green's "Love and Happiness."
With the help of producer Craig Street (best known for his work with Cassandra Wilson), Jackson and his bandmates cannily recall the sound of '60s soul-jazz on the Wonder/Green hits without ever sounding as if he's merely taking a nostalgic stroll or, worse, adopting a fashionably retro tack. That's because as evocative as these arrangements are, they're brimming with subtle harmonic and rhythmic touches that prevent them from sounding dated or cliched.
Of course, it helps that Jackson, who commands a big tenor sound, is surrounded by musicians who share similar interests and gifts. Organist Larry Goldings is particularly adept at updating the Hammond B3 funk tradition with an uncommonly melodic touch. Guitarist Dave Stryker, who immersed himself in soul jazz while touring extensively with sax titan Stanley Turrentine, demonstrates his customary finesse with a combination of cool-toned and wah-wah inflected solos that consistently freshen the soul-jazz format. (For proof of his deft handiwork, check out the album's title track). Meanwhile drummer Billy Drummond negotiates the swing and funk pulses with typical ease, contributing to the strong rhythmic pull evident on Goldings's "Jim Jam," Jackson's "In the Pocket" and other tracks.
Collaborating with these musicians, Jackson doesn't simply revisit the era of soul jazz, he revitalizes it.
Appearing Wednesday at Blues Alley. To hear a free Sound Bite from Javon Jackson, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8104. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)