What if you were the drummer for a band called Last Exit and that band sounded like a thousand elephants dancing inside your skull? What if that band was the punkest free-jazz band ever? What if you had played drums with Albert Ayler, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor? What if you made one of the greatest psychedelic jazz power-trio records ever? What if you were a composer and bandleader that stretched the lessons you'd learned even more taut? Most likely, you would be person with a severely exploded view on what music could be and how it could be communicated. You would be an intrepid explorer working without a map and you would always find your way. You would be testing tensile strength. You would be implementing, monitoring, riding and controlling seismic waves. You would be a force to reckon with. You would be Ronald Shannon Jackson.
The Texas native was in for a wild ride when he landed a gig with Albert Ayler, which undoubtedly had life-changing effects. Jackson has said that this stint was the first music he had played "that really opened me up." That opening just got wider and wider as he went from playing with the free-jazz pioneer to working with Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, James "Blood" Ulmer and to leading his own band, the Decoding Society. One online writer mentions Jackson’s sense of funk as being regarded in a funhouse mirror, and I find this observation not far off the mark, absorbing Ayler’s spiritual free jazz, Ornette’s inscrutable Harmolodic theories and Taylor’s far-flung tonal workouts would leave anybody with unique perspective on the nature of music and how it should be played.
Jackson's down-home Texas blues roots are in evidence, if you listen carefully, even during his most out excursions, he explains; "I was around music all the time...that is the environment I grew up in. At twelve and thirteen, you could actually go around and see Jimmy Reed because he used to play here all the time. All the blues players used to stop through and I knew most of their music through the records we had..." Decoding Society's guitarist Vernon Reid relates how Jackson had collated all of this into his playing. “He made the music he made from an outsider’s view, but not to the exclusion of rock and pop…he synthesized blues shuffles with African syncopations through the lens of someone who gave vent to all manner of emotions. I feel that the collision of values in his music really represents American culture.”