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Ahmad Jamal: The Legendary Okeh & Epic Recordings

This reissue of very early Ahmad Jamal material contains tracks that have been reissued before. There is a 1988 collection, Poinciana, on the Portrait label, with 11 of the 21 performances here. Poinciana also contains a five-minute version of “Slaughter on 10th Avenue” that is not on this Legacy reissue. It raises the question of how many other tunes recorded at the three source sessions (from 1951, 1952 and 1955) are not included-and why?

While the documentation here does not provide the comprehensive historical context of most Legacy reissues, Jamal’s half-century-old music is still unique, fresh and fascinating.

In recent years, a critical reassessment of Jamal’s early work has established that he was always more than a cocktail pianist. He was, by the age of 21, a major innovator in his mastery of space, dynamic range and small-ensemble form and function. Here, with only piano, bass and guitar under his command, Jamal makes 21 miniature symphonies. To cite one, “Crazy He Calls Me” has a completely reinvented introduction, lines sinuously stretched while shadowed by Ray Crawford’s guitar, repositioned emphases and substituted harmonies. It is a microcosmic universe of creative manipulation of form yet also a sincere tribute to a particularly beautiful song.

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