Shorn of the backing chorus that had been a case of a good idea poorly executed on the top side, here we have tenor sax ace Willis Jackson left to his own devices on an instrumental he himself wrote which should therefore provide a much clearer indication of his preferred musical direction.

That direction is… well, let’s say… still confused.

What he needs to figure out going forward is does he want to belong to yesterday or today? Jazz or rock? Is he merely content to provide an easy listening experience for distracted patrons at a finer establishment or does he intend to try and stir the frenzied revelers at an after hours party?

The answer seems to be all of those, which is another way of saying he doesn’t quite know what he wants to be yet.


Sliding Around
We can look at this one of two ways, the first being that over the course of a four song session – this one from December – an artist, particularly one cutting mostly instrumentals, generally would be given the opportunity to do something for themselves.

The company would stick that song on the B-side of a potentially more commercial single, thereby giving the artist a chance to follow their own desired path which might vary greatly from what they were doing in search of hits, and in the process they’d get a writing credit and whatever skimpy royalty payments went with it.

That’s what you’d like to think was the case with Good Gliding, a chance for Willis Jackson to show his musical versatility on a song that tries to cover a lot of stylistic bases at once.

The other way to look at it however suggests that this too was an attempt by one and all – artist, producer and company alike – to try and figure out the evolving marketplace and missing rather badly.

It’s not a complete waste by any means, for Jackson is too good of a musician to not deliver something credible. Furthermore, unlike his last single where both sides were well outside rock’s parameters and stirred no interest from the rock fan (nor from us, as we had no choice but to skip over it) this one at least contains elements that rock fans can gravitate towards.

Unfortunately though sometimes to get to those moments they have to wade through a lot of things they’d rather sidestep altogether.


Good, Bad And In Between
The catchy opening with its circular gently riffing horns is ideal… for a movie scene about suburban housewives hosting a cocktail party in the Nineteen-Fifties.

There’s a tacky quality to it, the musical equivalent of Formica in gaudy colors.

Yet nobody can argue the melody is not slightly intoxicating all the same and it’s doubtful you’ll turn it off if for no other reason than because there’s nothing about it that’s unpleasant.

Then again, there’s also nothing about it that hints at the kind of rock mayhem we expect out of our saxophonists. The rhythm is largely incidental, the sonic textures are shallow and even when Jackson starts to play over them and digs a little deeper he’s met with whining replies from the other horns, as if they’re protesting him dragging them across the tracks. Only the drummer seems interested in the action over there and he quickly disappears so it’s entirely possible they grabbed him and threw him in the trunk to keep him quiet.

But after another breezy interlude Jackson returns to the forefront more determined to satisfy us, the faithful rock fan who has been waiting patiently for him to leave this sunken living room aesthetic behind.

Give him credit for doing so, as he sticks with it in spite of some opposition within the ranks, gradually turning Good Gliding into something reasonably imitative of a rock instrumental, improvising on his sax in ways that never fully ditch the more conservative mindset the others adhere to, but at least he shows them what it’s like to loosen their collars and shake a leg a little bit.

Despite this however the song never really finds an firm identity when he’s blowing. Certainly in terms of rock ‘n’ roll his parts have the best tone of anyone on the session, they also contain the most excitement as he veers from one lane to another, and there’s no question he’s the most committed to making himself heard, but there’s no structure to be found, no hook to latch onto, no real endgame in sight.

If anything Jackson’s parts come across as being a rock interlude on a mild bachelor pad record and while we might not want this to serve as our soundtrack for a Saturday night on the town, there’s bound to be a few stray listeners who during the week actually wear sharper threads and aspire to living the high life who would go for the tamer musical action that opens and closes the record.

It’s not so extreme as to call this a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde record – the classier parts still have enough of a swingin’ vibe to them to avoid being denigrated as simplistic pop and on the other end the more rocking section never gets raunchy enough to blow the roof off the joint – but it’s definitely a tale of two musical mindsets which means that when melded together neither attribute will have enough time to win you over.

My Coolest Yet?
In many ways singles are an anathema to the way music had been constructed in the past when longer more complex pieces were how creative composers measured their skill, weaving together all sorts of different moods, styles and sonic elements within one extended piece.

But singles don’t allow for that, they’re not a seven course meal, they’re a quick snack. You don’t have different movements within them to bring more than one or two ideas to bear and when an artist tries to deviate from a singular approach that’s when things can go wrong.

What’s being played on Good Gliding is, for the most part, well… “good”. But it’s somewhat incompatible with what else is being played on it and as such you never get a consistent flavor.

On top of that the parts that seem the most carefully worked out and alluring – at least in the right setting – are those which are farthest from rock’s image and while Jackson does enough to satisfy the requirements of that image when he comes along, he doesn’t do more than that in order to elicit the kind of response he’s going for.

You can’t criticize the talent shown here and can’t accuse Willis Jackson for not at least being concerned about trying to connect with rock fans, but you also can’t recommend a song that takes two divergent paths which prevent either one from arriving at their desired – and separate – destinations.


(Visit the Artist page of Willis Jackson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)