Five HUGE Stars!! Il est magnifique!! The awesome "Blue Moon" is one of Ahmad Jamal's best! This CD captures jazz hall of fame composer, innovator, and piano genius Ahmad Jamal at age 81 and at the height of his musical powers": swinging, attacking, and improvising as creatively as he has throughout an illustrious career. This Jamal quartet is composed of the ingenious percussionism of 22 year Jamal 'conguero' Manolo Badrena, the vital bottom pulse of Reginald Veal on his bass violin, and master drummer Herlin Riley, a welcome addition to the drum kit again after 20 years. Mr Jamal, already in other international halls of fame, in 2011 became the most recent addition to the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame. Here he is in splendid compositional and improvisational form, lengthening the performance time of most songs for more extensive explorations. The result is a whopping 72 minute CD with all of the characteristics that have made him a jazz favorite for decades: beguiling vamps, smoking pedal-points, lush interludes, sudden tempo changes, extensive ballad expositions, and hard-swinging solos in uncompromising virtuosity. In addition, the bass and percussion players 'crank it up' a notch to the boiling point on many songs.
The performances are uniformly great, but my favorites begin with the latin-flavored "Blue Moon" which is on display in one of Mr Jamal's arrangements of endlessly looping 'pedal-points' (which he originated with his mega-hit "Poinciana" and which inspired the Miles Davis and John Coltrane 'modal' frameworks) based on a 5-note figuration by bassist Veal, with Badrena and Riley cutting loose on percussion with rim shots, rolling snare figures, crashing cymbals, cowbell accents, and a timbale 'clave'. The relaxing and invigorating beauty of "I Remember Italy" musically is what it must be like to stroll through an Italian vineyard on a nice breezy day. The funky, lovely "This Is The Life " is taken from the "history making" Sammy Davis musical' "Golden Boy". A simmering version of "Invitation" has bassist Veal, drummer Riley, and 'conguero' Badrena laying down a swinging carpet of rhythmic fireworks that Jamal seems to revel in with his jabbing, probing improvistations. And perhaps best of all, the power and beauty of Ahmad's magnificent treatment of the standard "Laura" is destined to go down as one of his greatest ballad performances, ranking up there with his cult classic Maryam, arguably one of the greatest ballad performances in the history of jazz. These awesome 6 minutes have a fleet-fingered Ahmad deconstructing the melody into bits and pieces that pop up at various points along the way, while he spins and returns to an ingenious 10-note recurring phrase which takes the "Laura" into new hip melodic territory until she quietly walks away. This song, which has fascinated him since he heard Erroll Garner perform it in the 1940s, is a performance that alludes to the history of jazz piano. Overall, this recording has wall-to-wall fabulous performances by one of jazz' greatest pianists: Ahmad Jamal, performing on his beloved Steinway grand piano with a supporting cast of excellent musicians and it gets My Highest Recommendation. Five MARVELOUS Stars! (This review is based on an mp3 download. 9 Tracks; Time-72:12.)