As pianist Ahmad Jamal points out in his own notes to Nature, he's recorded prolifically outside the trios for which he has become known (check out, for example, his new one on Roesch with the Assai Quartet). But what makes Nature even more unusual is Jamal's addition of steel drums. Don't look for a set of kitschy Caribbean tunes though. Othello Molineaux plays his steel drums more like a vibraphonist, as if he understands bop much more than island music. And the familiar, spare sound woth which Jamal attracted Mile Davis' attention is still in ample evidence.
Jamal's compositions featuring Moplineaux tend to have rather uncomplicated melody lines – as if to limit the potential flourish of the percussion. What's most interesting, though, is that Jamal seems content to let steel drums carry the melody, as he does on one of the album's best tracks, "If I Find You Again (quartet)."
Nature 's best track, the exciting bop of "Devil in My Den," forgoes steel drums altogether and adds fellow Pittsburghian Stanley Turrentine to the basic trio. Again, the horn states the theme. But while soloing, Turrentine's muscular prowess is almost overthrown by Jamal's aggressive support. The two soloing together actually sounds less like a sparring match and more like two creative minds considering one another's space. Unfortunately, this is Turrentine's only appearance and like trumpeter Donald Byrd's (or even violinist Joe Kennedy's) appearance on last year's Big Byrd, it cries out for a whole set of explorations, not just one.
The solo turns, on the other hand, are everything the rest of the disc is not: overstated, filled with too many notes, phony flourishes and quasi-classical cliches. It's as if Jamal, a beautiful, sensitive and gifted ensemble player, is trying to orchestrate these pieces with two hands rather than letting the spaces or the quietness get his message across.
Like the two previous recordings in Jamal's "The Essence" series, Nature is frustratingly inconsistent. But when he shines – as he does throughout most of this disc – it's hard to deny that Jamal, now in his fourth decade of music making, has potent, relevant ideas and a strength in playing that is well worth hearing.
Tracks:If I Find You Again (quartet); Like Someone In Love; Chaperone (solo); Devil's In My Den; And We Were Lovers (solo); Fantastic Vehicle (abridged version); The End Of A Love Affair (abridged version); Cabin In The Sky (medley); If I Find You Again (duet).
Personnel: Stanley Turrentine: tenor sax (on "Devil's In My Den" only); Ahmad Jamal: piano; James Cammack: bass; Idris Muhammad: drums; Othello Molineaux: steel drums (except on "Chaperone," "Devil's In My Den," "And We Were Lovers" and "Cabin in the Sky").