His arrangements are about rhythm. His melodies move as rhythms, reveal themselves by the ways he shows they can move. Out of the ‘who’ of the melody we learn to know the rhythmic ‘what’. The title tune does a dance that mesmerizes by the insistent repetition of moves in keyboard and bass, but there is a background percussive crackle, like a predator cracking twigs as he stalks, that keeps you alert. Ahmad Jamal is 82, but his “Blue Moon” (Rogers/Hart, 1934) is a new moon. “Laura” (Raskin/Mercer, 1945) is most playful. Ahmad Jamal reaches here, and he reaches there, fingering along the melodic line shaping it like a sailor braiding a chain of knots all of different shapes, the knots alive and wriggling like tattooed serpents, pets of the mysterious queen of dreams, Laura. Charlie Parker’s “The Gypsy” is slinky, coy, unpredictable. She hides her melody behind allusive chords, teasingly shows bits of her ‘who’ while percussive brasses rattle the bells on her ankles. She can be abrupt, is not above the cliché, but mostly likes to do things in her own time. Three more classic covers and three of Ahmad Jamal’s original, featuring bassist Reginal Veal, drummer Herlin Riley and Manolo Badrena on percussion. The originals, starting with “Autumn Rain” show a wide range of moods as rhythm, the piano melodic flow sporting the rhythmic patterns of percussion and trap like an exoskeleton. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ‘n You” completes the history lesson. You’ll wear this record out before you get everything in it.
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