Saxophonist/pianist/composer/bandleader Jessica Jones fuses the union of poetry and the melodic sustenance of jazz standards on Jessica Jones Quartet’s latest record Word. Jessica recruit’s a talented cast that includes her husband Tony Jones on tenor saxophone, her children Candace on lead vocals and Levi on bass for the song "Two Psalms," along with Mark Taylor on French horn, Kenny Wollesen and Lou Grassi on drums, Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone and bass, and Ken Filiano on bass. The disc has two levels. Side A is made up of creamy textured moonlight jazz, which accompanies the torchlight vocals of Candace Jones who has the satiny voicing of Billy Holiday, the ebullient vocal arches and radiant intonations of Gigi MacKenzie, and the emotional depth of Sathima Bea Benjamin. Side B is comprised of nightclub jazz melodies underscoring the poetry readings performed by Arisa White and Abe Maneri. The poetry is White’s and Maneri’s original works, which add harsh brush strokes across the melodic lines.
Jessica expresses about the poets Arisa White and Abe Maneri in a press release, "The way that they recite is affected by the music, and they’re able to interact the way a musician reacts in terms of intonation and also improvising, which isn’t always true with poets."
Though Jessica feels that Sides A and B are like the two sides of one coin, it actually feels like Side A is jazz music’s Old Testament and Side B is it’s New Testament. The ultra creamy piano textures of "Everything Is" and "My Romance" provide a plush carpet for Candace’s vocals, which display such excellence that you feel like you are transported back to the 1940’s in the heyday of nightclub jazz. The suppleness of the rhythmic strikes and languid saxophone wails are of the aquiline Charles Mingus class. The upbeat trammels and swing taps of "Miss Kelly’s" were influenced by the intimate setting of a tavern located in Oakland, California where jazz musicians got together after playing as Jessica reflects, "That piece was written for a place in Oakland at Jack London Square where musicians used to go after the jam sessions to have breakfast at two in the morning. Some of the jazz elders would hold court there, telling stories about being on the road, and I liked hanging out with them and listening. The woman you’d pay at the front was named Miss Kelly, and the musicians called the place Miss Kelly’s, even though it was actually the Jack London Inn." Side A pays respect to the jazz music that emerged through this nightclub life.
Side B takes jazz into a modern era which is where the listeners enter some strange and bewildering terrain. Instrument parts stand cockeyed to the vocals and to each other at times revealing deep consternation on "So Misunderstanding." Though the vocals of Arisa and Abe show a deep conviction for their words, the music expresses discomfort and unsure of how to console their vocals. It seems as if the vocals are speaking in a foreign tongue that the music is trying to comprehend but stumbles over itself in its attempt. Jessica outlines in a press release about the recording of "So Misunderstanding" that it was composed on the spot through an open-minded collective with both poets engaging one another in the process. "I really like the way they played off each other," she says. "It’s like (Arisa) saying this stuff to get (Abe) involved and he sort of refers to it and then goes somewhere else. I was just stunned by the way they interacted with the words on the group improvisation."
According to author Barry Wallenstein, "Poetry has always craved the company of music." But poetry needs to want to compromise a little and bend with music notes, which Arisa and Abe showed in their readings that poetry bends for no one, whereas, Candace’s vocals were completely bendable. These poet-jazz or po’ jazz ensembles, as they are called, are difficult to like for the reason that poetry readings resist moving to the melody. Side A of Word will take your breath away, but unless you are a fan of po’ jazz ensembles, Side B will be hard to enjoy.