[10/1/2003] - "One World Vibe: Can a Canadian pianist, European bassist, and Cuban drummer play America's music?"
It's dangerous to generalize about a musician's personality from the way he or she plays. The tenor saxophonist Ben Webster was said to have had an explosive temper yet played ballads with unequaled tenderness and sensitivity.
With pianist D. D. Jackson, though, what you hear is what you get.
Jackson can pour out torrents of notes, as anyone who heard him in Erie with saxophonist James Carter several seasons back can remember.
Speaking to Jackson, you get the same headlong rush of ideas. It's as though he has so much to say that he can't wait to get it all out.
Now, he returns to the Erie Art Museum Annex on Saturday as the leader of a conventional piano trio with bassist Hans Glawischnig and the sensational young drummer Dafnis Prieto. The music will be anything but conventional.
It could hardly be otherwise given Jackson's unusual background.
Jackson grew up in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, the son of an African-American father and the daughter of a Chinese diplomat who escaped during the so-called Rape of Nanking during World War II.
His parents encouraged him to pursue a concert career (he graduated from Indiana University's prestigious music school), but an encounter with the late pianist Don Pullen turned him toward improvising. In retrospect, it's hard to picture the omnivorous Jackson doing anything else.
Yet when I asked Jackson which side of the classic jazz dialectic he came down on — composer or player — he averred. "I like to think of myself as a conceptualist, and I try to have as open a mind — a musical approach — as I can."
His sidemen are of a similar mindset. Area jazz fans who were at the Erie Art Museum Blues and Jazz Festival in August 2000 may remember drummer Dafnis Prieto as the astonishing rhythmic engine behind Jane Bunnett's incandescent Spirits of Havana band. Only 28, Prieto has quickly become the first-call drummer for an amazingly long list of progressive musicians, like Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, and Andrew Hill's big band.
"It's tough to keep track of Dafnis," Jackson laughed. Anyone who cares about the drums shouldn't miss this opportunity to see him
Bassist Hans Glawischnig, like most European bassists, has rock-solid intonation and great musicality. "He's pretty much Dafnis' regular bassist," Jackson told me. "He's got a great sense of groove, and he can handle anything Dafnis throws at him."
Jackson is capable of throwing a few curves himself. His playing has enormous scale and is all-encompassing — much like Canada itself.
"I hadn't thought of that," he said.
Canada, after all, has produced pianists as stylistically diverse as Oscar Peterson, Paul Bley, and Diana Krall, so I asked Jackson if there is a Canadian musical style.
"Musically, [there is] a sense of eclecticism. We're near American culture and exposed to it, but not of it, so we have the freedom to experiment."
And we're all invited to hear the results at what should be one of the musical highlights of the season.
- John Chacona, the Erie Times