Album review: Cosmontology Live (Dave Jackson Quartet) by John Clare

Cosmontology Live
Dave Jackson Quartet

Review by John Clare

CDCover_DJQ_s‘Time is a social institution and not a physical reality’.

This thorny one is quoted in the press release for Dave Jackson’s new CD Cosmontology Live. I say thorny because for me the two most bewildering concepts are gravity – which is a warp in the space time continuum caused by the proximity of a solid body, yet also a virtual force – and time, which seems undeniable when one event succeeds another. Only the calibration of time seems like a convenient fiction to me. Yet in some disorienting and possibly liberating moments many of us have probably experienced something like the suspension or transcendence of time itself. For instance? Well, my son and I once hung above a seemingly unending dense swarm (school is inadequate) – an innumerable race – of small fish, which at first seemed so fast it was almost impossible to focus on one individual for even a split second. There were so many of them that in the end we could not determine whether they were all moving at the same speed. Or soon even in the same direction. The feeling that there was no time was weird and very real. There were no parameters and no points of orientation but a strange waver in space. Of course the bottom had immediately disappeared. Afterward we described it to each other in very similar terms. When it all suddenly stopped or vanished and we saw a line of large predatory fish – the common Tailor whose mouth can look quite ferocious in attack mode – pursuing them along the bottom, we came back with a jolt into orthodox perception.

Does Dave Jackson’s music achieve anything like that feeling? I don’t think so. That is not quite the aim. At the height of the Free Jazz movement such feelings were sometimes reached through rhythmic displacement, allied with sheer uncalibrated speed, a feeling of continuous Rubato and a deliberately boggling overload of cross rhythms. No, that’s not it, though I love to revisit that time (or place or dimension or social institution). Dave Jackson’s music does achieve, through shifting and sometimes asymmetrical metres a time feel that is sometimes easier to dance to (very easy) than to count. Perhaps this says something in itself with regard to the universe and ‘social institutions’. Further, a widening and contracting atmospheric field mingling acoustic and electronic colours and textures moves the music from directionality to uncalibrated expansion and back, and to both at once. There are sections of electronic ambience, static and rippling, into which are fed vocal samples, including the quote with which we began. But this is all food for contemplation. Nor does such contemplation interfere (for those boggled by or indifferent to quantum mechanics) with the music itself, which is outstanding in its cohesion, momentum, excitement and colour. I saw the band recently at Sydney’s Sound Lounge (launching this disc) and the music was very satisfying and exciting indeed. It also held a predominantly young enthusiastic audience with very few departures.

When Jackson first recorded – with the subtle and distinctive Trio Apoplectic – I was not the only one who found a surprising echo of the floating lyricism, unusual intervals and limpid sound of Paul Desmond – alto saxophonist with the famous Dave Brubeck Quartet and composer of their hit Take Five, which was indeed in five/four time and one of the first such compositions in jazz. Some offered this comparison without qualification – thus exaggerating it – but the similarity was definitely there. In recent times Jackson has worked with more direct energy and a harder sound and sometimes an electronic component, including a kind of loop echo delay effect and a curious resonance that suggests a double reed sound. Yet there are still intriguing touches of the earlier approach. Some might at first be taken aback by the proliferation of certain repeating runs and patterns, but from these building blocks spring fresh angles and propulsive/lyrical phrasings, often reaching a whiplash intensity in the high register, and these soon claim most of the listener’s attention.

Jackson’s rhythm team is particularly sharp and dynamically and texturally interactive. New Zealander Steve Barry has tapped the areas opened up by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (particularly with Miles Davis) in their explorations of the atmospheric as well as the funky possibilities of the Rhodes electric keyboard, adding an ethereal dimension of his own. Drummer Derricott has attracted my attention for some little while now with such colleagues as trumpeter Simon Ferenci and saxophonist Peter Farrer, but bassist Thomas Botting is a recent surprise. Both bass and drums solo occasionally – literally – but sometimes they improvise through the floating textures and dynamic accents of their colleagues. The disc seems stronger with each hearing. Live, they are immediately engaging. The disc was recorded at Jazzgroove in Sydney and COMA in Adelaide.

I seem to recall that Jackson’s girlfriend is a science student and that she is in part the catalyst for his concern with the structures of the universe. There is a charming and sincere appeal about all this, and it is within a long tradition which echoes these concerns in music. Of course one scientist has said that when he reads philosophical or mystical accounts of quantum physics phenomenae it is like recognizing a familiar street but with all the buildingspainted mauve. This is what art, religion and philosophy often do, and at the very least they stimulate interest and enliven academic postulates.

A previous disc, Cosmontology – recorded in Brooklyn – presents some of the tunes here in an earlier but also engrossing manifestation. They also play the late Bernie McGann’s ‘D Day’.


Jackson alto saxophone
Steve Barry Rhodes
Thomas Botting bass
Paul Derricot drums



YouTube with attitube. Nice narration, guys!


Dave Jackson on on the web: