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Ahmad Jamal: Big Byrd

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This date is actually part two of Jamal’s prior Verve release, The Essence, which for the first time paired the great piano stylist with a saxophonist. His co-soloist on that occasion was the sympathetic George Coleman. Part two date finds him working a track each with guests Joe Kennedy on violin and Donald Byrd (thus the title) on trumpet. Elsewhere Jamal is in familiar trio terrain with either James Cammack or Jamil Nasser on bass, Idris Muhammad on drums and recent percussion collaborator Manolo Badrena.

Ahmad Jamal is one of the great small band leaders of our time, forever at the helm of meticulous trios or quartets and bringing a sense of swinging elegance to the music that is uniquely his own imprint. Jamal is one of those stylists, like Monk, Mingus, or Randy Weston, that were/are always able to bring renewal to familiar pieces of his repertoire, case in point this outing is “Manhattan Reflections,” a standard Jamal avenue that is freshly paved with the addition of Kennedy’s toneful violin. Byrd joins the mix for the slightly puckish title track. Both maintain a presence respectful of their host. From a whisper to a crescendo Ahmad Jamal is a master dramatist, which is very much in evidence on the extended (15:13) outing with Byrd.