He’s just turned 89, he’s given us more than enough already – I haven’t even heard every Ahmad Jamal album that is available, and yet a part of me is worried at how I’ll feel when he’s no longer here to make music. Because over the last decade he’s released a small handful of beautiful recordings, muscular, dynamic workouts for trio, quartet or small combo.
Here Jamal makes a rare solo outing – his bassist James Cammack, who has been with Jamal since 1983, is there on three tracks. The opening cut is a warm duo retake of the title cut from 2017’s Marseille.
Then, for the most part, Jamal works out on his own through new originals, reworkings of his own songs and a few stately standards.
There’s a solo exploration of Poinciana – though not a Jamal original it is indeed one of his signature pieces. And where previously it’s been buoyed by the lithe drumming of Idris Muhammad (or Herlin Riley – among a few others) here it’s laid out on the table in a Keith Jarrett style; lyrical and with space. It’s glorious to hear.
Such a beauty to Jamal’s playing – Land of Dreams is a brief piece of wondrous balladry where time is made to stand still. The song lasting little more than two minutes but feeling like a world has passed. That’s the magic to his playing. The world is on pause, you’re agog staring from the window.
On What’s New Jamal dazzles with a dexterous passage where he solos across his own rhythmic accompaniment. Cammack returns for So Rare and lays the groundwork for Ahmad’s fingers to dance across.
There are so many lovely moments on this short, beautiful set of recordings. The closing brace of standards, Bill Evans’ Your Story (with deep moans from Cammack’s bass) and Johnn Mercer’s Emily (with Jamal’s playing nearing an emotional peak) would ordinarily be album standouts. Here they’re just parts of a no-filler/all-killer set from one of jazz music’s greatest ever pianists; certainly its greatest living player right now.
We’re lucky to have him still – and to be able to hold this music. A treasure.