Last year, JaLC kicked off the fourth season at Rose with two of the best shows in its 20-year history in programs devoted to Benny Carter and Gil Evans. This year, it began equally auspiciously with a program on Thursday night built around the iconic pianist Ahmad Jamal. On paper, the idea looked dauntingly complicated: Getting Mr. Jamal's famous trio to interact with the full Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by artistic director Wynton Marsalis, would not be not an easy undertaking. Then again, there is a whole repertoire of modern jazz concertos (and concerto grossos) out there, from Sonny Rollins's 1958 Big Brass," with charts by Ernie Wilkins, to George Russell's Living Time" (1972) for Bill Evans.
In performance, the presentation turned out to be refreshingly simple. Mr. Jamal and his ensemble — a quartet, actually, with James Cammack on bass, James Johnson on drums, and Manolo Badrena on Latin percussion — held the stage for the first half of the evening, playing a condensed version of the sets they play in jazz clubs all over the world, beginning with his customary opener Wild Is the Wind" and building to his signature hit, Poinciana." Mr. Jamal is more of an interpreter than a composer: Few of his own originals have caught on with other performers, but his touch at the piano and the sound of his augmented trio is so distinctive that he can make any melody sound like his own.