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January/February 2006

Ahmad Jamal
Live in Baalbeck

Because Ahmad Jamal is in a vibrant late career phase, with an acute sensitivity to the "live" aspect of playing live, this performance from the 2003 Baalbeck Festival in Lebanon--amid the picturesque Roman ruins--is both a treat to watch/hear and a valuable document of one of jazz' more distinctive re-inventors of the concert experience. Bonus features include interviews, peripheral footage and a discography.

Jamal works with, and just plain works, his bandmates: soulful drummer Idris Muhammad and sturdy bassist James Cammack. As the pianist rightly says in an interview, "We are practitioners in stimulating thought processes." Starting off his set with two items from the realm of standards--"Young and Foolish" and "Where Are You"--but treated with his surprise attack dynamics and nonstandard notions. Jamal coaxes unsentimental lyricism and carves out unique new routes through ballads, such as "I'll Always Be With You" and "You Can See," and turns more abstract and structure-tweaking on his own tunes, "Topsy Turvy" and "Acorn." The title of Jamal's restless "In Search Of" tells all: this trio conveys both confidence and a belief in the importance of the musical search--the thrill of the hunt--in all its real-time, life-seizing glory.

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