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Paul Jackson Jr.

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Guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. keeps an intense, breakneck schedule. In addition to the demands of being a Grammy nominated solo artist, Jackson is a highly in-demand sideman and session player. In the two years since he released The Power of the String, his last Blue Note recording, the popular guitarist performed in the television special Diva Las Vegas (behind Cher, Shakira, Mary J. Blige and Whitney Houston, with whom he toured throughout the Nineties), participated in the Billboard Awards tribute to Jam Master Jay, composed music for the film Undercover Brother with Stanley Clarke, and contributed to the TV hit Cedric the Entertainer. In the midst of all that activity, the deeply spiritual Jackson continues to seek quiet time in which to listen to the “still small voice” of God. Those moments played a key role in the creation of his sixth solo album, so it was only “super” natural that he titled the extraordinary project, Still Small Voice. A great benefit of being on the short list of top-flight versatile session and live performance musicians is forging relationships with the best producers and performers in his chosen genres. His 1996 classic Never Alone/Duets featured high profile collaborations with legendary pals Kirk Whalum, Joe Sample, Jeff Lorber, Earl Klugh, Ray Parker Jr. and Gerald Albright, while The Power of the String included guest spots by Boney James, Mervyn Warren and Patrice Rushen.

Some of the contributing “voices” to the new project are Lorber (who also co-produced “Sportsman Park” with Jackson), Albright, bassist and fellow Houston tour member Ricky Minor, electric piano/keyboard greats Rushen, Billy Preston, Ricky Peterson and Brian Culbertson, the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section (Ray Brown, Gary Bias and Reggie Young) with the addition of Patches Stewart and Andy Wiener, and percussionist Sheila E. Jackson produced six tracks on his own, and tandemed on others with Alan Abrahams, Brian Culbertson and James Reese (a songwriter and friend from Jackson’s childhood growing up in South Central L.A.).

“Before I begin a project, I always pray and stay receptive to the Spirit, and I’ve learned that God doesn’t holler at you,” says Jackson. “You’ve got to be open to the subtlety. The idea that began to take shape this time was to venture out musically, showing my growth as a songwriter and trying out some new dynamics, like more live bass and drums than ever before and using a horn section for the first time. Rather than decide ahead of time, I let the individual tunes dictate which sound was best. I’m also texturing my own rhythm guitar with my lead lines more this time. Best of all, I got my kids involved, with my daughter Lindsey singing backup on the Brian McKnight cover ‘Back at One’ and my son Paul III helping me do the narration for the ‘Park Tour’ suite.

“I’ll always enjoy working as a sideman, but these days my solo career is my primary focus and I’m looking forward to getting on the road with my own band,” he adds. “It’s important that I try each time to make a meaningful musical statement about where I am in my life at the time. It’s all about making music that speaks to people, makes them stop what they’re doing and listen, enjoy and feel something positive.”

Jackson wanted the new collection to have a more organic, live sound than previous projects and was particularly excited to have bassists Abraham Laboriel and Alex Al, and drummers like the great Harvey Mason and Teddy Campbell laying down various rhythm tracks. Laboriel and Mason push the groove gently on the soulfully romantic opening title track and then kick up the intensity level on the sizzling Latin-flavored jam “Dios Te Bendiga” (“God Bless You”), which finds Jackson in a festive flamenco mood. Al and Campbell helm the beat on four other key tracks--the mid-tempo light funk ballad “Blue Note” (featuring some of Jackson’s most crisp electric improvisations); the attitude heavy retro-funk gems “Walkin’” and horn-drenched, Stax flavored “1:15”; and the silky McKnight tune which closes the disc. Still Small Voice’s first single is a feisty twist on the old Spinners classic “It’s A Shame,” featuring yet more horns and a mystical atmosphere with a touch of electronic sitar flavoring.

The centerpiece of Still Small Voice is the unique “Park Tour,” which begins with a spoken intro and then incorporates three songs dedicated to real places in Jackson’s childhood and adult life. The cool and moody “Athens Park” touches on some of his memories of the park down the street from his childhood home on Athens Blvd. in South Central. The thumping, B-3 organ splashed (by Lorber) “Sportsman Park” pays homage to the nearby park where Jackson learned to swim. More to the present day, the moody and laid back “Crystal Park” is the place in Compton where Jackson’s musical associate and childhood friend Reese owns a radio-controlled racecar track.

Though Jackson never got to meet or work with one of his chief guitar influences, Wes Montgomery, he has forged professional relationships with all the others who touched his formative years, including Earl Klugh, George Benson, Ray Parker Jr., Al McKay and Lee Ritenour. Since breaking into the Los Angeles studio scene in the late 70s, he has contributed his multi-faceted guitarisma to the biggest artists in R&B, jazz and rock: Houston, Michael Jackson (Thriller, Bad, History), Randy Crawford, Ramsey Lewis, Dave Koz, David Benoit, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Bobby Brown, Steely Dan, Chicago, The Temptations, Anita Baker, Lionel Richie, Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Al Jarreau, and George Duke.

Jackson points to his trip with Houston to South Africa in 1995 as his most spiritual, powerful and soul-energizing project to date. Playing his own signature Gibson model Paul Jackson Jr. ES347, in recent years he’s also accompanied the Backstreet Boys (on MTV’s Total Request Live) and Destiny’s Child and, bridging his musical and spiritual lives, taught at worship conferences in Korea, Italy, Guatemala and Honduras. As a solo artist, his growing catalogue includes 1988’s I Come To Play (whose title track earned a Grammy nomination for Best R&B instrumental Grammy), Out of the Shadows (1990), and River in the Desert (1993).

While majoring in music at USC, Jackson—who got his first guitar at nine, started playing seriously at 12 and decided to be a professional musician at 15—met noted jazz pianist and pop singer Patrice Rushen, who became a mentor and introduced the young guitarist to many musicians who would later hire him. “Success as a studio musician comes from knowing that your number one priority is making the artist happy and developing a reputation for giving those who hire you what they want,” he says. “I still practice and love all the late nights and early mornings in the studio, trying to get things just right on my own projects and those of the artists who hire me. I keep all that balanced with my faith journey, and every so often will turn off the mix of be-bop and oldies I keep in the car and just drive in silence…listening once again for that still small voice. God will speak to you if you allow yourself to turn down the volume.”

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