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Ahmad Jamal: Marseille (Jazz Village)

Review of the jazz piano great's eclectic album featuring his working rhythm section and some unusual touches

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Cover of Ahmad Jamal album
Ahmad Jamal’s album “Marseille”

Ahmad Jamal is the Benjamin Button of jazz piano. Most players age into understatement and economy; Jamal has aged out of it. But that’s a generalization. His music was more nuanced than that when he recorded “Poinciana” in 1958, and it remains so in 2017, as Marseille seems determined to demonstrate.

In fact, this record’s version of “Autumn Leaves” is closely related to Jamal’s most acclaimed early work. It largely comprises restrained single-note lines from the pianist as well as generous use of space and fluctuating dynamics. It’s the rhythm section (longtime associates James Cammack on bass, Herlin Riley on drums and percussionist Manolo Badrena) that busies up the tune, with stabbing Latin rhythms reminiscent of Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco.” But don’t look for that performance to establish a pattern. “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” Marseille’s one other standard against six originals, evinces much more aggression. This time it’s Jamal who stabs at the keys, accenting his rubato melody rendition with clanging, slightly dissonant chords.

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