Jackson can do it all and on Anthem he shows that he can compose memorable ensemble melodies of lasting grace. He also proves himself a strong leader choosing an orthodox line-up to fit his musical vision. As he himself switches from piano to organ, he's teamed with another enfant terrible James Carter and savvy veterans Jack DeJohnette and Mino Cinelu. He also adds the distinctive freshness of the young voices of electric bassist Richard Bona and violinist Christian Howes. The latter two are given plenty of room to show off their considerable wares - Bona's plucky bass bops the beat throughout as Howes' long lines shape the melodies allowing Jackson's scurrying embellishments.
Compositionally, the disc is filled within hummable phrases that you swear you've heard before. "Carnavale" is a proud strut that works into a frothy organ grinding sweat as Howes does a scratchy Gatemouth Brown impersonation and Carter's soprano sax snake charms. "Church" is no somber seat squirming affair but a percussion frenzied dancing gospel homage. "Simple Song" is an innocent melody intoned with chantlike sincerity by the silk-throated Bona. A melody worthy of the great Tin Pan Alley composers (or Keith Jarrett's "Country"), it could easily have fallen into the sugar barrel in less charismatic and honest hands. Jackson has a knack for shedding new light on old influences and I checked the notes continually to see who'd written a familiar tune. Of course, it was always Jackson. In "Pat" for Mr. Metheny, you find yourself waiting for the lion-maned guitarist's entry. On the gospel-folk of "Water Dance", Jarrett's prancing fingers are evoked. "Dewey's Groove" is a biting tribute to Josh's dad rollicking into dissonance in true senior Redman fashion.
His compositional nods are so effective in capturing his influences as to be just short of plagiarisms. That's a supreme compliment.