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Ahmad Jamal: In Search Of... Momentum

Jim Santella By

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Ahmad Jamal learned to play piano at age 3 and started his professional career at age 11. His dynamic use of volume control, his swinging enthusiasm, and the manner in which his superb keyboard technique dresses up a melody all contribute to the artist’s continued success. His classic “Poinciana” has become a major landmark in the history of jazz and popular music. At 72, Jamal remains as fresh as ever. In Search Of ... Momentum [1-10] represents the first in a series of new Dreyfus Jazz releases by the hard-hitting veteran pianist.

A guest appearance by vocalist O.C. Smith takes Jamal’s “Whisperings” aside for a quiet break. Throughout the session, the pianist’s dynamic range pushes the keyboard from deep, down and heavy to quirky and light. Standards, such as “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “Where Are You,” receive the toughest initiations. In his hands, they’re wispy melodies that sing out lightly over Jamal’s poignant rhythmic drive and hard, foot-stompin’ energy. James Cammack and Idris Muhammad fill suitable roles, bringing the pianist’s creative forces forward. Fiery keyboard swirls and knuckle-busting romps alternate with light-as-a-feather, punctuating phrases. Jamal’s use of tension and release has always had this effect.

The artist’s originals take a more straightforward approach. Each has a theme that runs consistently through its shell. While one remains bouncy and lyrical, the next may turn out asymmetrical and complex. “Where Are You Now” and “Island Fever” prove the point. Monty Alexander’s “You Can See” gives the trio plenty of room to stretch out. As the song’s melodic line emerges and then disappears behind a surging bombast of harmonic counterpoint, Jamal drives home the message loud and clear. Unique among jazz pianists of all ages, and always full of surprises, Jamal shares his highly recommended In Search Of with a world that is badly in need of this kind of innovative beauty.


Track Listing: In Search Of; Should I; Excerpts from I

Personnel: Ahmad Jamal: piano; James Cammack: bass; Idris Muhammad: drums; O.C. Smith: vocals (4).

Title: In Search Of... Momentum | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Dreyfus Records


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