|D.D. Jackson is a real contender: a determined and deeply musical young pianist of original thought and training that encompasses Western European classicism, yet moves well beyond it, into jazz. A debut album as open, intense and rangey as this one immediately alerts listeners that its prime motivator has something to say that's worth hearing from its earliest manifestation. The flood of D.D.'s passions throughout Peace-Song promises there's much more to come.
Though Jackson's music suggests all that, it doesn't detail his Asian and Afro-American ethnicity, his upbringing in Ottawa, Canada, or his self-directed education. A Master's degree in jazz from Manhattan School of Music and a bachelor's in classical piano from Indiana University - plus a token - usually gets one on New York City's subway. Being able to apply acquired knowledge and techniques to a gift for song and expressive drive felt since childhood (D.D. started studying the keyboard at age six, and says he freely improvised they, and being able to impress such renowned iconoclasts as Don Pullen and Jaki Byard (two of D.D.'s former piano teachers) of one's serious intent, may earn an up-and-coming player a bit of buzz.
Yet Jackson's skills in composition, interpretation, improvisation and interaction have gained him much more. Born in 1967, by 1995 he's convinced a front line of jazz notables of his worth, having created a place for himself in saxophonist David Murray's quartet and octet, violinist Billy Bang's ensembles, auteur Kip Hanrahan's "Conjure" band, and with reedists Jane Bunnett and Dewey Redman. D.D. - an endearment from Chinese for "little brother' - concertizes with his own trio and maintains a regular profile at Manhattan clubs including Sweet Basil, the Knitting Factory, the Cooler, Birdland and Visiones. He's just begun...
"I tend to absorb things by osmosis, rather than by studying their specifics," says the pianist with mature self-assurance, "so I like to listen to everything, stay open and not be confined to any one style of composing or improvising. I want to express myself as fully and freely as possible ? that?s my goal. I have great respect for the jazz tradition, and don't feel the need to completely refute it. I hope, though, to establish something personal and original, something in my own unique voice:"
In Peace-Song, Jackson addresses a full dynamic range and the breadth of the piano keyboard. He's a percussive player, wielding a strong attack and sweeping gestures, exploding fast lines with muscular clusters.
"Don Pullen has certainly been a big influence on me;" explains D.D., who first met Pullen at a master class, "but his influence has been primarily conceptual. I was experimenting with some of the techniques we share for exploiting the full resources of the piano during my classical years. Don channeled and encouraged me more specifically towards a jazz context, and freed me up, gave me confidence."
Besides power, D.D. elicits grace, tenderness, delicacy. He has impressive independence of hands, but uses them interdependently to form his ideas and make his points. Bach, Beethoven, and the Romantics including Rachmaninoff attracted him before he heard much jazz; now Thelonious Monk, Abdullah Ibrahim, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea are among his favorites. Jackson identifies these as "some of the true originators - not offering just slight variations, but really trying to do something conceptually new."
The precedents of all the great jazz originators - not just its pianists - fuel D.D.'s music, though his own light shines most brightly, as it should in a music that celebrates the contributions of everyone who comes to it. Nor is his identity in question; marked by soulful integrity, it's fully developed and seemingly inherent, neither forced nor contrived. He credits his parents with his orientation towards achievement, but says they never pushed on him the culture of China (his mother was 13 when she left the mainland to join her father, an ambassador to the UN, in New York) or black Knoxville, Tennessee (or, for that matter, Latin America - D.D.'s father, a professor of Spanish at Carleton University in Ottawa, has made a specialty of Afro-Hispanic literature).
As for his Canadian connection, Jackson recalls seeing Oscar Peterson in his youth He was the first jazz pianist I saw, and was my first major influence. I was impressed by his rhythmical swing and his absorption of the blues idiom"- and is grateful for the high regard his native country affords the arts, which extended to financial grants assisting his university and independent studies. D.D. considers it coincidental that his bassist John Geggie and drummer Jean Martin are also native-born Ottawans.
"When I was growing up I had no clue there were people in my hometown - the fourth largest city in Canada, and the nation's capital - who had musical interests compatible with mine," he says. Having lived in Manhattan for five years, D. D. met Geggie and Martin, founding members of the acclaimed Canadian quartet Chelsea Bridge, during his '94 visit home to play the Ottawa International Jazz Festival. He values their flexibity - both have orchestral chops and experience - and their "non-New York-style, but very swinging' grooves.?
"Peace-Song can be hard for jazz rhythm players," its composer explains, "because the straight eighth note feel is almost like something from the rock world. John and Jean catch that, but are sensitive and interactive, too. I've worked with many combinations of New York bassists and drummers, but they're the most comfortable I've met so far for my trio."
As a trio, Jackson, Geggie and Martin pounce and provoke each other on "Breakout" stir up modernist funk on Tunnel Vision,' and drive steadily to their shared destination on "For Monk-Sake." On "Funerale," the reflective, stormy, finally heart-breaking finale dedicated to Chris Jackson, D.D.'s older brother who succumbed to a rare illness at age 22, the pianist stands alone.
David Murray, whom D. D. met while touring Europe with Kip Hanrahan's troupe, devotes his uplifting and exploratory energies to D.D.?s joyous "Waltz For A New Life;' affirmative "Peace-Song," impressionistic "Wisps Of Thought,' classically structured "Canon," and tour de force 'Seasons." The most significant saxist to emerge from the 1980s, Murray is probably best known as a holy terror of a blower; he's also co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet and the most prolific recording artist in decades. Throughout Peace-Song, Murray pours himself into composer Jackson's melodies; they seem to bring out his often overlooked romantic strain. D. D. Jackson, as an improviser, responds in kind.
I like to see how far I can take a piece emotionally,' D. D. claims, "then defy expectations and take it even higher." So Murray is the perfect hornman for the pianist, and his enlistment of D. D. in his own bands proves the admiration is mutual.
Admiration, appreciation, evaluation - if what's actually in contention is the power and glory of the art of spontaneous musical expression as a medium for the self reaching out to and affecting others, there's no contest. We are all winners, because, first time out with Peace-Song, pianist D. D. Jackson wins, hands down.