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O.C. JAZZ REVIEW : Jason Shares Her Horn of Plenty


SANTA ANA — Look out world. Here comes Sonya Jason.

Previewing her first album to have major distribution, the 28-year-old saxophonist showed herself Saturday at Randell's to be a competent alto and soprano player with an ear for melodic hooks and accessible rhythms. If her performance this night is any indication, Jason should be in line to join the upper echelon of contemporary jazz musicians.

Avoiding most of the pratfalls that make much of crossover music so dull, Jason and her backing trio--keyboardist Al Daniel, drummer Bill Grayson and bassist Keith Jones--played to the emotions, but with sincerity. There were none of the cheap appeals to sentimentality that Kenny G has built his career on, none of the phony eyebrow-arching that Dave Koz employs to hide a lack of talent, and none of the pointless high-end screaming that David Sanborn resorts to when he runs out of ideas.

By contrast, Jason almost seems reserved. Playing with an intelligent lyricism, she constructed logically developed improvisations that ended in climaxes neither overblown or under thought out.

For the most part, she kept things simple, showing a bit of technique here and there with streaming sets of lines that always seemed part of a grander plan. She's the kind of sax player that vocalists could learn a few tricks from.

The material, all of it original and most pulled from the new recording, held enough turns and surprises to keep things interesting without loosing its accessibility.

The emphatic, unexpected theme of "Show Biz," given a tight reading by the quartet, was a prime example, setting the tone for the upbeat solos that followed. "Forbidden Love" (co-written by Tom Powers) used Daniel's lush keyboard support as a base for Jason's inquiring alto. "Tryst," a ballad written for her earlier, self-produced album, featured sweet, unison lines with the keyboard and a very melodic improv from her soprano.

Though her tone on alto is softer than the much-emulated Sanborn's, it's not without body. She used this clean, smooth sound to good effect on such ballads as "Green Eyes" and "Touch and Go," bringing needed warmth to these slower numbers.

Her soprano tones are polished, golden and inviting, but not without heat. She generated considerable excitement on the mid-tempo number "Mystery Man" while peaking with pointed, upper-register exclamations.

But not all of the material is first-rate.

"Easy Love," with its funky backbeat foundations, became a bit tedious during repetitions of its major-key theme. "When I Grow Up" seemed to rely too much on sentimentality and too little on the intelligence apparent in some of her other composing.

But for the most part, this is music for moderns who want more than emotional shallowness and ego-driven musicianship. Sonya Jason is the real thing.

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