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Ahmad Jamal: Blue Moon

Larry Taylor By

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In 1958 Pianist Ahmad Jamal burst on the scene with At the Pershing: But Not for Me (Argo Records), which contained the runaway hit "Poinciana." The song's impact was such that it remains Jamal's signature tune to this day. As sometimes comes with popular success, some jazz critics pulled back, but his championing by other musicians, such as trumpeter Miles Davis in 1955—citing the pianist as one of his big influences—subdued their effect. Over the decades, Jamal has made many recordings, and his career has prospered internationally.

Blue Moon displays that the octegenarian is still going strong. In recent years, he has surrounded himself with drums and bass, close at hand for spirited give-and-takes. Here, however, he has his now-regular retinue which includes two percussionists.

The playlist is a mix of six standards and three originals. A signature demonstrated with "Poinciana" is a repetitive, Bolero-like rhythm, increasing in intensity throughout the number, with Jamal and others playing against it. This pattern is still apparent, with variations, but the approach is mostly impressionistic, creating often surprising results.

On the Rodgers and Hart acorn, "Blue Moon," drummer Herlin Riley establish the familiar rhythmic pattern with Jamal's piano playing, an intriguing cat-and-mouse game with the theme. With "Gypsy," Billy Reed's forties hit, Jamal lets his imagination run free, throwing out Art Tatum-like flourishes, alternately twisting, then unwinding the tune.

David Rose's classic theme to the classic 1944 film Laura is a lovely chance for Jamal to show his taste and skill with ballads. On Jamal's original, "I Remember Italy," on the other hand, Reginald Veal's throbbing bass stands out, but everyone stretches, taking advantage of its 13-plus minute duration.

Closing out, the quartet takes an abstract look at Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody'n You." Like everything on this CD, uniqueness is the keyword on this rendition. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Master Jamal reigns with Blue Moon.

Track Listing: Autumn Rain; Blue Moon; Gypsy; Invitation; I Remember Italy; Laura; Morning Mist; This Is the Life; Woody'n You.

Personnel: Ahmad Jamal: piano; Reginald Veal: double bass; Herlin Riley: drums; Manolo Badrena: percussion.

Title: Blue Moon | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Jazz Village

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