Ahmad Jamal Trio: Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961 (Verve, 1998)
This two-disc set is a selected compilation of what was originally five different live albums, any one of which we could have picked instead. If you’re just looking for a basic intro to Jamal’s art, though, this will do splendidly. Abetted by what was arguably his greatest rhythm section—bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier—Jamal experiments with space and dynamics in a manner that was little short of revolutionary in the late ’50s. “Poinciana” is probably the best-known track, but everything’s worth hearing. And if you want to go deeper, those five original albums are At the Pershing, At the Pershing Vol. 2, The Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal, Ahmad Jamal’s Alhambra, and At the Blackhawk.