Throughout six decades on the jazz scene, pianist Ahmad Jamal has proven it’s possible to be a precise, restrained soloist without sacrificing soul or artistry. Perhaps the lone negative when it comes to his music is familiarity, since anyone remotely knowledgeable about jazz piano will immediately recognize the Jamal style, one that carefully combines elegance, speed and fervor.
Jamal doesn’t veer far from the formula on his latest release, A Quiet Time, though he frequently demonstrates his facility in an area where he often doesn’t get enough credit: his ability to successfully navigate tough, intricate rhythms and textures from other sources besides mainstream jazz.
Some of the best tracks venture into Latin beats and influences, particularly “My Inspiration” and “Paris After Dark,” as well as his adventurous solos and nimble flurries on Randy Weston’s “Hi Fly.” Kenny Washington’s drumming gives Jamal both a formidable anchor and another assertive voice within the ensemble, while bassist James Cammack lays down huge, booming support and also occasionally steps out front with forceful statements. An added bonus is Manolo Badrena’s percussive creativity. He provides strategic additional sounds from a wealth of Latin and African rhythm instruments.
But no Jamal disc would be complete without beautiful ballad treatments, and Jamal excels on “I Hear a Rhapsody.” He delivers the melody with flair, then shifts into a rigorous, moving improvisation that both reworks and extends the tune into something that is inventive yet true to the original work. The same can be said for “The Love Is Lost,” “Poetry” and “The Blooming Flower.” He’s at his most dynamic on “After JALC (Jazz at Lincoln Center)” and “Tranquility,” a number first done back in the ’50s and rearranged here in more extensive fashion.