Though there are and have been pianists similarly influenced by Ahmad Jamal and Bud Powell – for starters, McCoy Tyner – without Jamal alone, there might not also have been a Keith Jarrett or Matthew Shipp. Why Jamal's "out there" tendencies has gone underappreciated by both straight-ahead and avant garde camps, is beyond comprehension.
Of the ten tracks on In Search Of,
six are originals, with the CD freshly starting off with five. In typical Jamal fashion, percussive syncopated placements of block chords suggest an extension of drummer Idris Muhammad. The mounting tension of changing time signatures invariably relents as Jamal temporarily withdraws into a more subdued pressing of keys. Muhammad settles into grooves of swinging ride cymbal figures while James Cammack's resonant bass lines intensify to the fore of the mix, as heard on the opener, "In Search Of."
Jamal captures the spontaneous essence of a quaint club atmosphere on "Should I." You can envision his shoulders approvingly grooving up and down with each unpredictable embellishment. The syrupy baritone vocals of the late O.C. Smith, heard on "Whisperings," proves awkward in its placement as the sole vocal number, disturbing the flow of the recording, if only momentarily.
The pianist's tender ballad rendition of "I've Never Been in Love Before" is an ongoing tide of currents breaking along the shoreline, quoting Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," returning them to calmer waters. "Island Fever," unlike stereotypical island-flavored tunes, refuses to fall in a rhythmic rut. The ballad "Where Are You Now" has an insinuating sense of swing that reveals Jamal's utilization of space as an essential element, carrying his music into a highly personal stratosphere.
As one of the most consistent performers in the history of jazz, Jamal continues a tradition along a road of recordings and live dates which has had few bumps, and this is a gem of a recording that sticks out with the 73-year old's best.
This review originally appeared in All About Jazz-New York .
Personnel: Ahmad Jamal- piano; James Cammack- bass; Idris Muhammad- drums; O.C. Smith- vocals on