Michael Gregory Jackson is among a generation of guitarists who forged their own path on…
Michael Gregory Jackson is among a generation of guitarists who forged their own path on the instrument in the wake of Jimi Hendrix. No less an authority than Pat Metheny said, “I have always considered him to be one of the most significantly original guitarists of our generation” while Bill Frisell opined, “I believe he’s one of the unsung innovators.”
A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Jackson came up on the storied New York City loft jazz scene of the mid-'70s. “All these people I was playing with in the ‘70s had their own thing and it was very strong,” he said, mentioning the likes of Oliver Lake, David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Wadada Leo Smith. “But we all did our own thing together. And that was what was so magical about that period.”
Gregory debuted as a leader with 1977’s acoustic guitar gem, Clarity (reissued on ESP-Disk), which featured avant-garde icons Lake and Murray on saxophones and Smith on trumpet. On 1977’s Karmonic Suite, he introduced the singular sound of his stereo Gibson SG electric guitar played through a volume pedal. Then on two Arista Novus albums from 1979, the spacey and spiritual Gifts and the funkier, R&B-flavored Heart & Center, he introduced a potent horn band featuring Marty Ehrlich and Baikida Carroll on saxophones, Jerome Harris on electric bass and Pheeroan akLaff on drums.
In 1983, Jackson released the punk-edged power trio album Situation X, produced by Nile Rodgers, and he continued his eclectic ways through the ‘80s and ‘90s. Last year’s whenyoufindituwillknow on the guitarist’s Golden Records was a return to his avant-garde/harmolodic roots, accompanied by a group of Danish musicians he dubbed his Clarity Quartet.
[caption id="attachment_37192" align="alignleft" width="1200"] Michael Gregory Jackson (Photo: Courtesy Bandcamp.com)[/caption]
In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Jackson reached into his personal archives and retrieved a provocative live session from a 1977 loft session at singer Joe Lee Wilson’s venue, The Ladies Fort. “The pandemic has actually opened up other possibilities from traveling,” he said from his home in Pasadena. “So I’ve just been digging in my archives, and this particular one was something special. That period for me was just a whirlwind of so much great music and collaborating with so many great musicians.”
A potent quartet outing featuring alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill, cellist Abdul Wadud, the aforementioned akLaff on drums and Gregory on acoustic and electric guitars, bamboo flutes and percussion, Frequency Equilibrium Koan captures a moment in time when the scene was wide open, the players were uninhibited and the envelope was being pushed on a nightly basis. “I don’t really subscribe too much to genre,” he said. “For me, it’s about what I’m feeling at the time, whether it’s lyrics or poetry or guitar music or midi guitar music. It’s whatever I’m inspired to do at any given moment. These days I’ve really decided not to adhere to any genre and just really do what I want to do, release what I want, because it’s all me.”
A Jimi Hendrix disciple, Gregory’s eclectic tastes were reflected in his early record purchases, which ranged from Pharaoh Sanders to Blue Cheer to John Coltrane and Led Zeppelin. He soaked it all in while also listening to his father’s Groove Homes, Stanley Turrentine, Les McCann and Eddie Harris records at home and checking out various Nonesuch world music records from the library. “So it’s all my musical foundation,” he said.
While Gregory dug straightahead jazz guitar in his developing years, he ultimately set out on a different path. “I loved Wes Montgomery but I decided that’s not what I wanted to do, largely because he did it so well and it would have taken me a lifetime to be able to do that. I really respected it and got what I got from it, but I made a decision really early on that it wasn’t my calling.”
Other guitar albums of note:
Snapdragon (Abstract Logix) finds fusion shredder Oz Noy joined by electric bassist greats Will Lee, John Patitucci and James Genus, superstar drummers Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl, organist Brian Charette and percussionist Danny Sadownick in a high-energy program. Highlights include the chops-busting boogaloo “Looni Tooni,” the dreamy, slow-grooving “Tired But Wired,” featuring guest Chris Potter on soprano sax, the fiery and funky “Outer Look,” featuring the late trumpeter Wallace Roney, and an instrumental take on The Zombie’s 1964 hit, “She’s Not There.” Guest guitarist Adam Rogers appears on an impressionistic take on Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” and the shuffle blues-rocker “Groovin’ Grant.”
The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery (Zoho) has guitarist Nelson Riveros reimagining the works of his guitar hero through a Latin prism. There’s a soulfully undulating montuno version of “Road Song,” a scintillating tumbao rendition of “Four on Six” and a 6/8 Columbian joropo styled “West Coast Blues.” He also puts a 7/4 spin on “Facing Wes” and delivers the beautiful Montgomery ballad “Leila” as an intimate solo arrangement for nylon string guitar.
Live at the 55 Bar (Sunnyside) finds sonic explorer and six-string virtuoso Ben Monder conjuring up a world of textures, tones and patented chops alongside tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey in a purely improvised program. The three-part “Suite 3320” showcases the three daring improvisers in a collective statement that is as compelling as it is jarring.
Rain Painting (Origin) pairs Portland-based guitarist and chordal melody master John Stowell with bassist-vocalist Dan Dean on a program of beguiling Stowell originals that feature lush vocal arrangements built up from Dean’s multiple overdubbing. Stowell supplies sublime accompaniment and brilliant single note solos on acoustic, electric and fretless electric guitars.