Sunday, February 12, 2012

In review--Jazz by moonlight

Ahmad Jamal
Blue Moon
Jazz Village (Harmonia Mundi)

The liner notes for American jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal’s Blue Moon, The New York Session, call the album a masterpiece and I would have to agree. Distilled in Jamal’s performance are decades of jazz exploration, improvisations, and a pioneering spirit that brings old standards such as Laura and Blue Moon vibrantly alive; and with original compositions, highlight Jamal’s ear for tone, texture, and polyrhythms. Jamal strings together exquisite musical pearls, from the Latin-ized Invitation, Blue Moon, supported by conga beats (Manolo Badrena) and Cuban piano motifs, as well as, mind-blowing syncopation that keeps listeners guessing.

While I enjoy hearing familiar songs tossed into unfamiliar terrain and witnessing Jamal’s imagination at work when he segues into blues motifs in the middle of Laura, or repeats a Latin piano motif in between Blue Moons famous melody, he and his quartet (Badrena, Reginald Veal, double bass, and Herlin Riley, drums), delivers excitement on the originals too.  A reviewer for UK’s The Guardian, referred to Jamal’s originals, Autumn Rain, I Remember Italy (my favorite on the recording), and Morning Mist as “impressionistic.” Who is going to argue when birdcalls, whistles, and splashes of cymbals appear during the opening phrases of Morning Mist? In addition, on Autumn Rain, the heaviness of the piano coupled with the drums, recall rain pounding the streets. The wandering melody in I Remember Italy offers a lyrical get-away.

I have seen Ahmad Jamal’s name for years in reference to American jazz and I’ve heard his work in passing, such as the theme to movie and television show, MASH and the soundtrack for The Bridges of Madison County, but this, and I’m sorry to say, is the first time I’m sitting down with a Jamal recording. Blue Moon offers a delightful listening experience with jazz history, and masterful performances leaving me to realize all that I have missed in my previous years listening to music--better late than never.

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