B.J. Jansen - baritone saxophone
Mamiko Watanabe - piano
Mike Boone - bass
Amanda Ruzza - bass
Chris Beck - drums
Dorota Piotrowska - drums
Ronin, The Masterless Samurai (2014)
By Mark S. Tucker
Well, as any who have taken in the exquisite Zatoichi and other Eastern films know, a ronin is a samurai no longer employed but honor-chained and oathbound to take no other line of work, waiting on the sidelines until another master might amble along and toss out a few ryo (man, the feudal Japanese were just as much under capitalistic sadism as we are now!). This made for a good deal of monetary anxiety for the sword-wielding bad boys as life wended its way. B.J. Jansen hefts the leviathan baritone saxophone—the only sax even bigger than that monster is the bass sax, now all but extinct—and looks at his craft in the same fashion. Well, the honor part anyway, as he's no more fond of being without a means of putting dinner on the table than any of us. Still, as he notes, "revenue streams have become increasingly scarce…[for] drifters, ousiders, masterless and seeking the truth of who we are as artists and people". Amen, brother, I hear you loud and clear.
A baritone's sound is inevitably more tart than its smaller brother and sister, just as earthy but with a twist and deeper resonance, of course. Grittier, too, as The Cost amply demonstrates, a mixture of the wild and the traditional, a cut that would've been right at home in the old Blue Note days. In fact, the entirety of Ronin, every cut of it written by Jansen, has that classic feel of be-boppers and unorthodox balladeers in their element, here in trio settings leaving the field wide open for tons of Jansen's chops. He's not a Hamiet Bluiett nor a Gerry Mulligan, that is: not that far out on the periphery nor that much inside norms, though, given the right frame of mind, he could be either…and I'd much favor the Bluiett side were that to eventuate.
For the moment at least, Jansen's residing in the kind of funky back-alley milieu you'd expect to run across when looking for a night-club on the other side of the bourgeois, a place where you could let your hair down, open your ears up, knock back a few drinks, and talk jazz with fellow night owls who know their stuff. Even if you listen to Ronin in broad daylight, you're going to feel like the sun just notched itself down and cigarette smoke wafted in clouds from nowhere, with glasses tinkling all around, magically arising from the ground. I pictured the "Round Midnight" film noir atmosphere and just kicked back, smiling slit-eyed. Have a glass of wine handy or a shot or two of whiskey—maybe even, considering the metaphor to the CD, sake and a dog-eared copy of the Dhammapada—'cause this is adult music for hedonists, not a field of folky flowers or rattlecage rock 'n roll but instead tonic for wordly, weary, workaday folk with a few brain cells to rub together.