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After 25 years, Joe Jackson's still the man


For the Call

As one of rock's most adventurous artists, Joe Jackson always seemed like someone least likely to reunite with a former band and revisit an earlier phase of his career.

But 2003 finds Jackson back with his original bandmates, bassist Graham Maby, drummer Dave Houghton and guitarist Gary Sanford, not only playing some of his earliest material live, but also songs from a recently released studio CD, "Volume 4."

Even Jackson admits that for much of his career he was too concerned with moving forward to look back. But he offers a simple explanation for why this reunion has become reality.

"It's the passage of time," he said. "I mean, maybe it's just too hard after a certain point to keep trying to be totally new every time. That's hard work.

"No, I think that it's a natural part of the process, if you look at the careers of any great artist. You know, there's always a point of reconnecting and closing yourself or reconnecting with something from the past, bringing an idea from the past into a new context. I think it's just a natural part of the creative process."

Of course, Jackson has done a better job than most any artist at continually finding new directions for his songwriting and playing. Over a 25-year career, he's explored spiky rock with his original band, swing on the CD "Jumpin' Jive,'' sophisticated Cole Porterish pop-jazz on his most popular CD, "Night and Day,'' and classical music on several well-received CDs.

But if "Volume 4" and his current tour represent a reconnection, this by no means is a rerun or a nostalgia trip. In fact, Jackson had written a half dozen of the songs that ended up on "Volume 4" before he even entertained the thought of reuniting with his original band.

"I thought initially it was a terrible idea, to do it just because our 25th anniversary was coming up," Jackson said. "It was only when I started thinking about what kind of a new album could we make together, that was when it became intriguing. And I felt like I'd come so far as a writer that it wouldn't be just like recreating the first album. And I think everyone had come so far, also, as players, that the idea of doing something new with these guys became intriguing to me."

"Volume 4," for the most part, is a highly successful return. Crisp rockers like "Awkward Age" and "Take It Like a Man" and such grooving tunes as "Little Bit Stu-pid" and "Dirty Martini" fit nicely alongside such early material as "Sunday Papers" and "On Your Radio."

Meanwhile other new tunes, including "Still Alive" and "Love at First Light," occupy more restrained territory, with their relaxed tempos and warm pop mel-odies that reflect the greater sophistication Jackson has gained as a songwriter since his early days.

"Listening to the album now, I mean, I think this band has gained a lot and not lost anything," he said. "This band has gained a lot of experience, gained sensitivity, but it hasn't lost any of the freshness or energy that it had."

The feel-good tone that surrounded the reunion of Jackson's original band should not be surprising when one realizes, as Jackson noted, the band didn't break up in the first place over any personal or musical disagreements.

"It was purely the fact that Dave, the drummer, wanted to leave," Jackson said. "He wanted to get off the road. He wanted to stop touring more or less for personal reasons, and that was really it. After that, time went by and I decided that I wanted to try something a little different. There's no big story there."

So Jackson began his eclectic and unpredictable journey into music — one that involved music so markedly different from his first three albums — "Look Sharp,'' "I'm the Man'' and "Beat Crazy — that writers sometimes questioned whether Jackson was turning his back on rock.

Jackson firmly denied that line of thought, as he explained his musical philosophy.

"I was always interested in going forward. I was never one to sort of wallow in nostalgia," he said. "I also never liked the idea of repeating myself to such an extent that what I did became sort of a formula. I really didn't want to do that.

"But I've always thought those first three albums were good for their time. I've always done songs from them over the years live as well. But as far as turning my back on rock or pop, I mean, I don't really see where rock or pop is something like a secret society that you swear an oath (to) or sign your name in blood or something and never betray it. I mean, music is music to me. I have just as much of a background in classical music as I have in rock music.''

The Joe Jackson Band plays Saturday, Aug. 16, at Mississippi Nights. Tickets for the 9 p.m. show, which also features David Mead, cost $30.

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