Music Review: Ali Jackson

Appeared in the June 2009 edition of DownBeat, an internationally circulated jazz magazine.

Ali Jacksons first studio release as a leader, Wheelz Keep Rollin’, is stylish hodgepodge—Latin here, straightahead swing there—loosely bound together by a refreshing, buoyant spirit throughout. The slow, bluesy strut of the title track kicks off the album with captivating flair. Jennifer Sannon’s punchy vocals and Jonathan Batiste’s dissonant Monk chunks, along with Jackson’s cogent second-line time, project a cool confidence. With a melody both urgent and playful, the number lingers in the memory long past tuba man Vincent Gardner’s solo march into the distance.

Jackson generally plays it simple on Wheelz. His musical personality is more restrained, humbler, than on previous recordings. While his clear, declarative statements and straightforward grooves serve the music well much of the time, several moments on this album cry out for more activity from the drums. For example, the uplifting “Spiritual,” which is ostensibly the album’s emotional climax, falls flat for want of more rhythmic energy.

This recording is most engaging when it’s least predictable. The angular, Latin-tinged “I Gotchu,” for instance, takes a striking turn after the final go-around of the head, modulating a central motif into a swinging coda, with trombone and muted trumpet floating on air. Accordingly, a musical high point for the rolling New Orleans shake “Shimmy Pop” comes on an abrupt two-beat silence smack in the middle of the head, a moment at which Jackson’s abstinence is welcomed.