Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ronald Shannon Jackson With Twins Seven Seven [extended]

  • Eye on You [About Time, 1981] B+
  • Nasty [Moers, 1981] A-
  • Mandance [Antilles, 1982] A-
  • Barbeque Dog [Antilles, 1983] A-
  • Decode Yourself [Island, 1985] B+
  • Live at the Caravan of Dreams [Caravan of Dreams, 1986] 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:

Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Eye on You [About Time, 1981]
There may be drummers who can cut Jackson, but nobody else moves so fluidly from free time to on-the-one. I only wish he'd indulge himself with a drummer's record. The music is never less than dense and jumpy, and he's keeping things compact--eleven cuts total. But handing your themes over to (guitarist) Bern Nix and (violinist) Billy Bang is no way to show off your composing. Stanley Crouch has a word for this kind of thing: eso, as in esoteric. Pretty good eso, sure. But even in my head I don't dance to it. B+

Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Nasty [Moers, 1981]
"Small World," featuring the unison horns of Lee Rozie, Charles Brackeen, and Byard Lancaster, is the most fiercely swinging track in all avant-fusion. After that Jackson carries rhythm and melody on his kit for ten minutes as the vibes swirl around him, and then there's a haunting harmolodic blues. But overdisc it's back to eso. The title piece is OK if you can't get enough Ornette homages, but "When We Return," which takes up almost a third of the record, is your basic freebie-jeebie noisemaking session, more accomplished than "Radio Ethiopia" but less endearing conceptually. By now, Jackson's supposed to know better. A-

Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Mandance [Antilles, 1982]
Despite Jackson's Blood pedigree and predilection for electric plectrists, I'm hard-pressed to describe this as "rock" or even harmolodic funk, because while Jackson is the master of every drum rhythm from march to free time, the feel of the record is more swinging than funky, with heavy doses of Tony Williams force-beat. What it really adds up to is a fusion album on which the soloists are forced to think concisely by compositional structures that are more than cute riffs. Guitar hero: Vernon Reid, who also gets to play banjo. A-

Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Barbeque Dog [Antilles, 1983]
He wouldn't connect without Shannon writing the tunes and swinging the funk, but the star is Vernon Reid, especially on straight Les Paul--he articulates with so much more delicacy and incisiveness than the perfectly suitable horn players, who often serve as his scrim. On Stratocaster he's power-packed. On guitar synth he's fusion or wah-wah. On banjo he sets down and thinks for a spell. On steel guitar he sounds like he's playing something else. And on "Say What You Will" he writes the tune himself, reminding us who's the leader. A-

Ronald Shannon Jackson: 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+

Live at the Caravan of Dreams [Caravan of Dreams, 1986]
For the first time, harmolodia's master drummer requires no decoding; sparked by a Nigerian chantmaster, he vamps along without ever risking implosion. But a vamp isn't always the deepest of grooves, and though the synthesis should engage devotees from both sides, only "Iré," in which various sidemen shadow the chanter a note and a harmony behind, will give agnostics a joyride. B+

Ronald Shannon Jackson: 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-

Ronald Shannon Jackson: 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+

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

Ronald Shannon Jackson: 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+