This deeply satisfying collaboration of drummer Ali Jackson, pianist Aaron Goldberg and bassist Omer Avital was a long time coming. They’ve known and worked with one another for a couple of decades, having crossed paths in school, in assorted bands, on the road and at Manhattan’s Smalls, where Avital anchored bands for years.
All three went on to raise notable blips on the jazz radar, though none is exactly a household name. Here they’ve set their more progressive leanings aside to luxuriate in jazz tradition, broadly defined. A nine-tune program includes pieces by Abdullah Ibrahim (“Maraba Blue”), Thelonious Monk (a 6/8 “Epistrophy”), Duke and Mercer Ellington (“The Shepherd” and “Way Way Back,” respectively, the former not to be confused with Avital’s composition of the same title on his Free Forever), and Avital’s fellow Israeli Eli Degibri (“Manic Depressive”). Jackson and Avital contribute two gems apiece, all classic-sounding enough to be mistaken for standards.
The playing throughout is exceptional, so much so it’s hard to single out highlights. Jackson seems contented keeping time, aside from solos on “Epistrophy” and “The Shepherd” and his intro to his own “Aziel Dance,” a piece whose interplay and casual dynamic shifts call to mind Ahmad Jamal. Goldberg sparkles in the lead throughout, richly mixing intelligence, precision and deep feeling. Avital shares the melody to Jackson’s gorgeous ballad “El Soul” with Goldberg in spots, and the tone and shape of his solos elsewhere could make you think Charles Mingus had returned—nowhere more so than on his compositions “Homeland” and the title track. Yes!, indeed: a delectable debut from a trio well worth the wait.