Ahmad Jamal sounds like the luckiest man in the world on Saturday Morning. At 83, the pianist is able to express with magisterial power all the rhythms in his heart and moods in his soul. Perhaps it’s karmic payback for how underrated Jamal has been over these many decades.
Saturday Morning is a companion piece to Jamal’s Blue Moon from 2011. The latter disc was recorded mostly in New York and dominated by movie and show tunes, whereas the new record was made in France and is primarily composed of Jamal originals. But Jamal’s unique and impeccable sense of time is a constant of both, enabled by drummer Herlin Riley and bassist Reginald Veal (Wynton Marsalis’ rhythm section in the mid-’90s) and ex-Weather Report percussionist Manolo Badrena.
With the title track, a staple of his concerts and played twice here, Jamal has found the modern-day equivalent of his monster 1958 hit, “Poinciana,” a durable, gently funky ostinato that is easily adaptable to all his rhythmic impulses. Aside from that gem, he delivers a fascinating, reggae-inflected “The Line,” and a tribute to Horace Silver (“Silver”) with Latin underpinning. Among the best of the cover songs is a rendition of the swooning hit ballad for Doris Day and Les Brown, “I’ll Always Be With You,” an opportunity for Jamal to present his shimmering note clusters like bouquets.
Jamal has never sounded more confident and self-assured in his stylistic gambits—the dissonant chordal asides, the alternating motifs, the spatial manipulation that so enchanted Miles Davis—and has never trusted his sidemen so thoroughly. He exudes an authority that listeners will find easy to cherish.