Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ronald Shannon Jackson

  • Decode Yourself [Island, 1985] B+
  • When Colors Play [Caravan of Dreams, 1987] A-
  • Texas [Caravan of Dreams, 1988] B+
  • Red Warrior [Axiom, 1990] **
  • Taboo [Venture, 1990] B+

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Decode Yourself [Island, 1985]
Believing correctly that what distinguishes Jackson's harmolodic fusion from Coleman's and Ulmer's isn't less musicality so much as no fun, Bill Laswell persuades him to beef up the themes and steady the beat. The upshot is the swinging "Software Shuffle" and other stuff. But it's also a record that tends to blare like regular old fusion, and it's not fun enough. B+

When Colors Play [Caravan of Dreams, 1987]
It's good that Jackson's avant-fusion sounds like no one else's and a little confusing that it always sounds exactly like itself, presenting the average consumer with the jazz-rock equivalent of the choice among Ricky Skaggs albums. As always, this studio-tight live set is dominated by andante unison statements of medium-complex themes that sometimes break down into vamps for counterpoint. It leans more than usual toward both small-group jazz ("Blue Midnight"'s blue saxophones) and hard fusion ("Good Omen"'s raving guitars). Skaggs's live album is one of his best, too. A-

Texas [Caravan of Dreams, 1988]
It hasn't been funk for years and it's rarely fusion any more--just memorable themes, serious mood pieces, solo room for players who deserve the opportunity but not our undivided attention. In other words, jazz. B+

Red Warrior [Axiom, 1990]
metalhead solo room, metalhead showoff space ("Gate to Heaven," "What's Not Said") **

Taboo [Venture, 1990]
A departure from Shannon's overworked small-group format featuring varying horn deployments and, hi there, old hand Vernon Reid. First side's a suite that'll string you along but good--kind of like Mingus, so to speak. Unfortunately, the second side doesn't exactly move as one thing--a few times its things don't even move as one thing. B+