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Jackson: Push Through ep

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Posted on 7th July 2017

Jackson Push Through ep

 

I missed Jackson playing their first gig at The Bell in Bath last month and, hearing their newest ep, Pushing Through, I’m very sorry I did. Nu-Soul, or Neo-Soul, is a rare breed around the Bath-Bristol axis. There’s only about one other notable, Gary Alesbrook’s The Duval Project; despite the genre-sharing, they are different and growing more so. Jackson is Nu-Soul on its cutting edge.

Jackson is the creation of keyboard player-singer-songwriter-arranger mastermind Jack Baldus, accompanied by a cast of regulars that, unfamiliar though most are to me, do his music proud. There is one well-known collaborator: DJ Asian Hawk, who scratches, sings and raps; bassist Rich O’Brien, who has made an impact on his own in the area is the other familiar face. Make no mistake, this is a new generation.

Jackson’s brand of soul builds on Roy Ayers, some Stevie Wonder, a big dose of Jamiroquai, and runs through a gamut of contemporary influences including Jay Z and Kanye types, but extends beyond that. This is not one-chord Funk; it is complex, full of interesting chording, voicings, mapped out parts and songs with multiple sections. This gives it all a kind of prog-rock tinge – but without the rigid excess of that genre. 

Vocals, in the most contemporary style, are often treated in some way: Jack B is fond of the talkbox, or vocorder, that combines his keyboard with his voice, but in the studio he makes use of Autotune in the way Kanye West did, as a distinct effect, not just for pitch correction. Jackson also employs multiple vocalists, often doubling the lead vocal. All this is exemplary of modern rap and soul and sets Jackson apart from other outfits that surround and back up a central solo singer. With Jackson, the vocals are an integral part of his big, complex arrangements.

The ep begins with Keep Swimming, a dense song structured almost like a Broadway musical song with layered choruses, changes in rhythm, elaborate horns, synths and guitar parts churning along, propelling it all to a final elegiac instrumental section with jazzy keys and guitar in a long fadeout. 

The title tune, Pushing Through, more laid back with a loping beat, a repeating melodic guitar phrase, R&B bass and male vocal doubled with female. This comes across as closer to classic neo-soul than the others.

The next tune, Track 9, plays out like an instrumental even though there are vocals. It’s a burner, a crazy joyride kicked off with a metalesque guitar riff at speed and a spot-on horn section plus lots of incendiary alto sax from Doug Cave with a chorus whispering in your ear throughout. I love it.

Wake Up is medium-slow, dark and cinematic with crunchy power chords from guitarist Joe Price - who plays a big part in all of this but none more than this song. Once again, like much of this record, it is an amazing multi-part mini-symphony.

If you go back to earlier tracks by Jackson, you will see a progression from simpler neo-soul styled songs to these fantastic constructions that defy easy categorisation. It’s clear that our boy Jack is on the move; he’s taking contemporary soul to brand new place. Keep an eye out for Jackson! 

Charley Dunlap

 

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