Recorded in 1973 as a foray away from the Modern Jazz Quartet, Milt Jackson’s second entry on the CTI label is also one of its highlights. This is one of Creed Taylor’s finest productions both in terms of material and sidemen. Drummer Steve Gadd, flutist Hubert Laws, bassist Ron Carter, and pianist Cedar Walton accompany Jackson on the majority of the album. Indeed, Jackson’s ability to swing funky is evidenced to delightful extremes on “Old Devil Moon,” with a rolling cymbal shakeout from Gadd, whose rim shots and tempo-pushing musculature are a sharp contrast to those of the MJQ’s Connie Kay. Likewise, Laws, whose playing is usually over the top, stays inside melodic nuances here and provides Jackson with an essential harmonic foil. And Ron Carter is playing throughout with a popping edge he never had before or since.
On Jackson’s own “SKJ,” recorded in December of 1972, Don Sebesky conducted a jazz orchestra for Taylor that included Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Cobham, Carter, a string section, a reed and woodwind and brass section, and a harp. Sounds sticky, eh? Hardly, Jackson is pure Bags here, playing it blue-black and rolling out around the ends of the turnarounds into deep, funky, post-bop terrain. The orchestra is mixed way down and is added for texture so the sextet is what one hears most – along with a burning Freddie Hubbard solo. The other number of real note here is a ripping rendition of Horace Silver’s “Opus de Funk,” which sprawls the slim harmonic edge, rolls it out on a carpet, and turns it inside on itself, before rolling through the blues to move the intervals into a sequence Silver might not have considered when he wrote it, but which Jackson reveals was in there all the time.