I got a call a little over a month ago from my friend of 30 years, Rodney Jordan. He asked me to be the first to preview and rate his first CD, “Playing Jazz”, which is to be released January 11, 2018. I was blown away, honored and gassed, of course. I agreed and set in motion what I thought would be kind of like a “blindfold test”, but how could I be completely objective when dealing with a close friend. Looking back on the days in my back room in Memphis, where Rodney, James Hurt and Zaid Nasser would shed and in Jackson, MS with Russell Gunn while remembering him sitting at the foot of Milt “The Judge” Hinton for a picture at the Mississippi Jazz Homecoming even better playing with the great Rozelle Claxton, who had made all the rounds a Jazz pianist could ever hope to play. But I was determined; being a bass lead is a somewhat difficult task as the instrument is brought from the rear to the front of the trio. A choice of musicians is key for contrast. An array of challenging tunes is needed to showcase ones depth of knowledge. In addition to these requirements, the leader must allow time and room to make each tune come to life. Being omnipresent, but never intrusive, is the key and here is how he did it. 

Opening with “Ardia”, which later he told me was the name given to his grandmother, I could feel the strength and love this woman possessed. His solo was a loving homage to her. This opening opus was a slow boogaloo… hard bop at its’s best.
As they eased into “Time After Time’, I heard “The Three Sounds” and Marcus Roberts inviting us to listen. Pops Foster smiles down at Rodney as he strums and strides. Stephen Riley’s tenor is reminiscent of Ben Webster, with an airy sweet tone.

The title cut, “Playing Jazz”, kicks off with Jason Marsalis ala Blakey delivering the shuffle and cymbal needed to raise Riley and Alphononso Horne to an altitude necessary for this flight. Rodney takes over the controls and brings us in for a smooth landing.

The haunting ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, finds Horne and his horn making a sentimental statement similar to Benny Bailey and Riley adds his own expression. A very cool and coherent treatment of this time tested ballad. 

I think we stepped into a dream as they interpret the Khan/Brown standard “You Stepped Out Of A Dream”. Rodney gives a nod to Milt Hinton as the cats circle the leader and they throw all the punches they have.

“We Will Get There”, another of Rodney’s originals may here been a glimpse into today’s political climate. They all deliver a timely reassuring message we could certainly use in this day and age.

“Lulu”, wow, I was waiting for this. Marcus Roberts is widely known as a brilliant pianist who spans ragtime to no time. He is a griot of sorts, who can spin a historic yarn like no one out there. The ragged time is what ragtime was about. We can see down the track as the crowd gathers around, that “Lulu’s Back In Town”.

A ballsey move for any musician would be to tackle one of Miles’ up tempo classics, well – they not only jumped in with both feet, but came close to claiming it. Rodney charges into “Joshua with a militia” of first-rate brass take no prisoners drumming from Jason Marsalis and a comp Silver would have appreciated.

I asked after hearing “Robin’s Theme” if this was dedicated to someone very special; he replied, “My wife”. I knew it. Listen to this Spanish Tinge, a dervish of love and affection.  

As if those weren’t enough to form an opinion, they once again visit Miles Davis with a composition by The Prince of Darkness and bassist extraordinaire, Ron Carter. Sidewinding is the order of the day, and each response is in the groove and tight. It’s called “Eighty-one”.

I told Rodney I’d give it an A-Minus for not allowing me to hear it for two years, but it’s not like grading a paper or sizing up a piece of construction. This is “Playing Jazz” and Rodney “Swing” Jordan is his generations’ guru.

- Tony Garrett