Lean, loose-limbed and deceptively powerful, the Khan Jamal Quintet recalls the sound of New York City in the early '80s, particularly in those clubs like Soundscape, Jazz Forum and the Tin Palace that were remnants of the New York City loft-jazz scene. It was at those clubs that several musicians began reviving the freer, posthard-bop sound of Blue Note's second wave of left-of-center discs. Vibist Khan Jamal was in the center of this Reagan-era movement, and his latest disc, Black Awareness, recalls that time with gusto. Reedman Byard Lancaster joins with trombone great Grachan Moncur III on the frontline, while bassist Dylan Taylor and drummer Dwight James are the rhythm section.
Although his compositions bring to mind some of Bobby Hutcherson's most treasured recordings, Jamal's solo style is more akin to Milt Jackson in his heavier touch and strong rhythmic accents. The first of four Jamal compositions, "One Comes First," leads off with a spry tempo but a spare sound that contrasts starkly with the punchy solos from the leader and his frontline. Moncur brings three tunes to the date, and they mesh well; his languid tempos and arrangements-particularly on "Believe"-leave abundant room for James to decorate the theme and accent the beats.