Ahmad Jamal: After Fajr

Ahmad Jamal image 0
Steve Futterman

Ahmad Jamal

A half century into his career and Ahmad Jamal is still confounding expectations right and left. Conversely, if you’re a devoted fan and cherish the pianist’s idiosyncratic ways, After Fajr finds him right on target.

Jamal responds to his own rhythmic muse; where it commands him to go at any given moment seems to be between him and his fingers-the pianist’s bass and drum team had better have their own sense of momentum and keep faith with it. In reality, the trio’s interaction hardly bespeaks caution at all. Drummer Idris Muhammad and bassist James Cammack are as one with Jamal, responding with pinpoint accuracy to his shifting inclinations. The pianist’s off-kilter moves would be merely attention-getting devices were he not so gifted a player. His ballad readings and midtempo romps (“Yours Is My Heart Alone,” “Time on My Hands”) reveal a remarkable touch and sensitivity to melody.

Jamal’s recordings over the past decade have often featured guests, such as saxophonist George Coleman, trumpeter Donald Byrd, percussionist Manolo Badrena and violinist Joe Kennedy Jr. Although the title composition, featuring a vocal soloist and choir, shifts the album’s gears for a moment, the concentration on trio dynamics remains the chief fascination. Even without his great champion Miles Davis around to sing his praises, Jamal, through stirring recordings like this, continues to demand our attention and admiration.