Michael Gregory Jackson – Karmonic Suite LP

MGJ-karmonic suite

A tremendous 1978 hidden (so to speak) recording from enigmatic guitarist, singer & multi-instrumentalist Michael Gregory Jackson & reedist Oliver Lake. Jackson is one of the drollest characters in the, um – Jazz/Avant-Garde arena operating a confusing chameleonic surf between categorically pioneering & highly astute intellectual Jazz innovation, ultra Avant-Garde, JazzFusion, Noise, Improvisation, Pop & R&B. his wildly contrasting history from cutting-edge 70’s New Music vanguard, major stardom, quite obscurity & genre defenestration is a fascinating, rare, unique & as of yet undisclosed (at least fully) page from Jazz history (presuming we can limit the definition to Jazz in this most multifaceted of musicology cases?). Moving away from his exceedingly intriguing story (I don’t have all the information anyway) & onto the album at hand. Jackson performs half the album solo & is joined by the great Oliver Lake on sax & flute for the rest. These guys share a stupendous synergy from gallons of interplay over years & by this stage had already induced one of the greatest free & scripted Avant-Jazz & extreme improvisational records of all time with Pheeroan ak Laff on drums – Holding Together, with two more equally radical LP’s following in 79 (Shine! & Zaki).

The A-side for me is quite underwhelming & fairly staid considering the territory Jackson was frequenting at the time. This is probably because of my expectations & acquaintance with his previous & later works. I would say that it’s quite soft & sparse with very little pretention. Lake is absent on all but the brief Karmony. Jackson, not to dissimilar to some other artists in the field such as Pharoah Sanders, has on some recordings a strong irenic message, generally conveyed through vocals & lyrics but also through melody. it’s a much’ much more sensitive medium that I think can sometimes create an antimony between his wilder material/styles. This of course totally depends on the listener, but I think there will often be division between the two hugely polarized approaches. This is part of what makes him such a unique artist as the distance between these styles & genres is so drastic, almost contradictory. Depending on what album of his you are analysing, these styles & elements can be either merging, conflicting or absent altogether.

Now, for me it’s really the B-side where it all jumps off. The tracks are much more exigent, substantial & daring with Lake also partaking in all cuts but the last. These guys play seminally together, a symbiosis of sorts due not just to their exceptional individual talents but collective growth over the years. There is an effortless ease & mutual augmentation that’s really quite rare. The material here shares a similarity to the indelible 1976 milestone Holding Together, led by Lake & featuring Jackson, Fred Hopkins & Pheeroan ak Laff. It would be incorrect to call it an extension, but bodies of the same calibre of momentous magic radiate here. The blatant perspicuity of individualism & abstruse vibrancy is extremely inspirational, with a rare sagacity at work with the elite abilities & disciplines of the two musicians being played with in such an experimental, impetuous & care free manner. The B-side contains just four tracks, put the array of sounds, energy & style is richly variant. Lake utilizes flute, soprano & alto saxophones whilst Jackson entertains acoustic & electric guitar, gongs, bamboo flute and even traps-drums on Cooperative Development. Absolutely all of it works brilliantly flitting past with extreme grace. It’s not just how pleasing it is sonically & energy wise, it has an incredibly inspiring quality as it suggests so many possibilities & what can occur when virtuosity, improvisation, time matured coaction, innovation & daring and – a strange almost oxymoronic feature of restraint & precision somehow backed/shifting between a total absence of that very restraint. Super stuff!!!

 It’s worth crediting the label again as well – Improvising Artists which was I believe run by Paul Bley. They did a helluva’ lot of mega risky & majorly adventurous LP’s with some great names. I don’t think any of them are commercially (Gak!) available anymore? But it’s gagging for a reissue operation.

Rekd: 1978

Label: Improvising Artists

Michael Gregory Jackson has a new CD out – Endogeny & Exogamy with tuba player Joseph Daley & drummer Kikanju Baku on Ethnicty Against the Error.