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Ali Jackson: Amalgamations

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Ali Jackson is a loyal acolyte of Wynton Marsalis. The trumpeter and Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director became something of a father figure to Jackson after his dad died, and he’s helped shepherd the drummer’s career right up through his current position as timekeeper of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Marsalis and other JALCO members he has mentored, most prominently bassist Carlos Henriquez and trombonist Vincent Gardner, are featured on Amalgamations.

In a crucial stroke of inspiration, Jackson has challenged their notoriously fastidious technical rigor with a familiar, wide-ranging program that careens across the gamut in terms of mood and genre. You want harmonic gymnastics and melodic deconstruction on a tightrope without a net? Toss an old warhorse like “Cherokee” into a trio of Marsalis, Jackson and Henriquez and watch them strive for spontaneity using their impeccable chops and decade-plus experience together. Then there is “Done Tol’ You Fo’ Five Times,” which Jackson describes as “a chain gang stomp,” a slow swamp-blues featuring Gardner on muted trombone and vocal mumbles.

Jackson calls the stalking, wobbly rhythm a “New Orleans dirge shimmy,” but the sheer force of his beats will remind you of his tutelage under Elvin Jones. And yet, for better or worse, the entire proceedings, filled out by Jonathan Batiste on Fender Rhodes and Philip Keuhn on bass, aren’t the slightest bit shaggy.

Jackson travels to Puerto Rico on the silky syncopation of “Cachita” (with Marsalis and Gardner in the frontline) and goes to church with “Praise” and “A Closer Walk With Thee” (over the plush carpet of organist Shedrick Mitchell). Tenor saxophonist JD Allen beckons you into the swimming pool of his tone on “I Love You” and Wayne Shorter’s “Fee Fi Fo Fum.” The only real misstep here is opting to have Batiste play Monk’s “Thelonious” on Rhodes.

A final recommendation for Amalgamations: Bass players, don’t miss your chance to hear Carlos Henriquez in his unfettered prime, especially on JALCO member Ted Nash’s dynamic arrangement of Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” in a trio with Jackson and Nash on alto sax. Throughout Amalgamations, the drummer gives the bassist some, and the bassist repays him with resplendent virtuosity.

Originally Published