RONALD SHANNON JACKSON is best known as the one drummer who is able to match Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman torrent for torrent. Jackson's greatest talents, though, may be as composer and leader of the Decoding Society. His eight compositions for his latest album, "Decode Yourself," have all the classic elements of good jazz writing -- captivating melodic figures, surprising changes and rhythmic swing -- and are sturdy enough to contain some of the boldest, most aggressive playing in progressive jazz.
Jackson uses violinist Akbar Ali, keyboardist Onaje Allen Gumbs and trombonist Robin Eubanks to create sustained melody lines that rise and fall elegantly. Agitating beneath these lines are Jackson and two electric bassists, Melvin Gibbs and Bruce Johnson, with several hyperactive rhythmic patterns going at once. The solos operate in the space between, trying to connect the lyricism of the top with the lust of the bottom.
The best solos come from Vernon Reid, Jackson's longtime guitarist, who always phrases thoughtfully, even during an eruption of electronic funk. He gives "Undressing" both its sensual opening and its jangling climax. Jackson doesn't show off on the drums but uses them to push and focus his younger players. His restless rumbling supplies the needed momentum to the lovely "Decoding" and holds together the romping "Tricky Vic."
To hear Jackson really cut loose as a drummer, turn instead to his solo album, "Pulse." Jackson exploits the melodic and textural possibilites of the trap set to make his long workouts on side one more listenable than most drum solos. On side two, he interpolates recitations of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, Sterling Brown and Michael Harper into the street rhythms of marching bands and barbecue joints. RONALD SHANNON JACKSON -- "Decode Yourself" (Island, 90247-1) and "Pulse" (Celluloid/OAO); appearing with the Decoding Society Friday at the 9:30 Club.