Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

Ahmad JamalJazz Village SP9570001
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2


I lost count of the number of albums listed in the discography on Ahmad Jamal’s website, but his newest, Blue Moon: The New York Session, brings his recordings as leader to over 50. Jamal will be 82 in July, and he’s still bursting with ideas. Early in his career he was unfairly accused of commercialism, a charge that Miles Davis, for one, dismissed out of hand. Jamal’s use of space and economy of notes was a strong influence on Davis, who encouraged Red Garland, the pianist in his 1950s quintet, to play like Jamal.

There’s nothing commercial or conservative about Jamal’s playing on Blue Moon. His energy and sense of adventure seem to grow as he ages, and his technical command of the piano shows no sign of slowing down. Jamal mixes things up a little this time by replacing his usual drummer and bassist, Idris Muhammad and James Cammack, with Herlin Riley, who sat in the drum seat for several of Jamal’s ’80s recordings, and Reginald Veal, whose résumé includes stints with Wynton Marsalis. The group expands to a quartet with percussionist Manolo Badrena, who has appeared on five previous Ahmad Jamal recordings.

Jamal is rhythmically subversive coming out of the gate, taking apart Riley’s rock’n’roll backbeat in “Autumn Rain” with bold, ringing chords, then gently stating the song’s main theme. He maintains a great balance of tension and release by dancing around and over the beat, which, after a few bars, is reinforced by Badrena on congas. Jamal plays variations on the melody, pulling apart and reassembling it, then coming at it from a slightly different rhythmic angle as Riley opens things up with subtle cymbal work and less emphasis on the kick drum.

“Autumn Rain” is one of three Jamal tunes here; five of the remaining six are from films or Broadway shows. Badrena is prominent in “Blue Moon,” during which Jamal reinvigorates and reinvents the old standard with great, expansive excursions on the melody over Badrena’s Latin percussion. Badrena also sets a Latin tone for Bronislau Kaper’s “Invitation,” from George Cukor’s 1950 film A Life of Her Own. Jamal plays long, gorgeous lines of melody, but also takes cues from Badrena and Riley to take rhythmic flights. Veal contributes soft, bowed lines to Jamal’s impressionistic “I Remember Italy,” a delicate piece that demonstrates Jamal’s command of the keyboard and his ability to evoke place and emotion.

Jamal’s playing on Blue Moon is by turns dramatic, thoughtful, and intellectually challenging. He approaches each tune as a big-band arranger would, giving it drama and shape. While he often takes exciting liberties with rhythm and harmony, he always anchors his ideas in the song. Jamal loves melody, and keeps it at the center of even his more daring experiments.

Blue Moon is the first release on Harmonia Mundi’s new label, Jazz Village, so it shouldn’t be surprising that itsounds great. Jamal’s piano rings out clearly and fully, and both Riley and Badrena are sharply focused in the soundstage. I would have preferred more definition for Veal, but the presence of his bass is vital to the feel of this session, and the recording registers it strongly.

Listening to Jamal on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ’N You,” which closes Blue Moon, I wondered how many times he’s played the tune. He first recorded it in 1958, and has returned to it several times since then. The fact that he can still find new things in it is a testament to the rejuvenation that art can give us. That’s the reassurance carried by every track on Blue Moon.

. . . Joseph Taylor