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Ahmad Jamal: Ballades

Mike Jurkovic By

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None other than Miles Davis cited Ahmad Jamal (born 1930) as a stylistic influence. So, as he was approaching his ninetieth birthday, what did this vibrant upstart do to further shake things up? He released his first ever solo album which isn't really a solo album because on three of the exemplarily graceful tracks on Ballades, Jamal duets with his longtime bassist James Cammack. That is what he did.

And what we're going to do is sit back and revel in the splendid majesty and magic of the man and his instrument, deftly probing classics of his own making and those of others. At once emotionally expressive while retaining the spacious economics of Jamal's imitable style, Ballades isn't about bebop or cool, riff or runs. No, these ten luxuriating performances are meant to be a communal appreciation of the beauty humankind is most capable of, even in the darkest of times.

"Marseille," one of Jamal's latter-day beauties and his first duet with Cammack, opens his solo album with a restrained, elegant resonance. Composed on the spot, "Because I Love You" plays his left hand against his right, then shades the two gently, reflectively, creating six ideal minutes of transcendence. Without its iconic groove, "Poinciana," the hit of Jamal's youth, is revisited and revitalized here with a surer, darker lyrical wisdom. Brilliantly coloring the whole of Ballades is Jamal's yearning romanticism which serves to instill new illumination and beauty to such oft-recorded, though no less necessary, chestnuts as "Spring Is Here," "What's New," and a shimmering "Emily."

Track Listing: Marseille; Because I Love You; I Should Care; Poinciana; Land Of Dreams; What's New; So Rare; Whisperings; Spring Is Here/Your Story; Emily.

Personnel: Ahmad Jamal: piano; James Cammack: bass (1, 7, 9).

Title: Ballades | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Jazzbook Records

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