Ahmad Jamal’s Blue Moon
Listen to what he does with the title tune, loping on not only a slow-simmer Latin rhythm but also a bass line (which occasionally gets passed to the piano, then the drums) from the refrain of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” Or the album’s first track, an original called “Autumn Rain,” where Jamal coaxes clusters of chords, then a sprightly melody, over drummer Herlin Riley’s raucous backbeat.
Jamal has always been shrewd in his choice of band mates. The trio that made him famous, back in the mid-to-late 1950s, featured Jamal’s lithe lyricism backed by Israel Crosby’s insistent but agile bass lines and drummer Vernel Fourniel’s reeling polyrhythms; the music’s joy came from the internal tension. On Blue Moon, much the same comes from Reginald Veal and Herlin Riley (with Manolo Badrena adding a few more complex touches on percussion), except that Jamal himself sometimes storms into the fray rather than simply gliding above it.
This is the best Jamal album since The Essence, Volume 1, which came out 16 years ago (also featuring Badrena), and maybe a bit better than that.
The sound quality, engineered by Todd Winmill, is excellent. The drums could have been a bit more prominent in the mix, but I suspect this was an artistic choice, and not an invalid one.