Ahmad Jamal "It’s Magic" Album Review

by Jan P. Dennis, Audad
July 19, 2008

Among the finest discs of his long and brilliant career. Lately, he always seems to know exactly what he’s doing. Moreover, it comes across so effortlessly. How does he do it? Approaching 80, Mr. Jamal may be producing the finest music of his long and storied career.

It wasn’t always that way. Although a major influence on the early Miles Davis, Mr. Jamal seemed rather stuck in the 1980s. Where others had moved on, he kept offering up his neo-classical jazz. Then somehow, miraculously, he reinvented himself, bursting out of his somewhat stifling and one-dimensional MO.

We’re the beneficiaries. The mature Ahmad Jamal retains all his classic virtues—an uncanny pure melodicism, a rhythmic ingenuity, and a deep sense of swing—while upping the musical ante. What’s he added? Equal parts adventure and seasoning.

His adventurous side pretty much shines throughout this remarkable CD. Whether it be casually creating instant classics like “Back to the Island,” with its Sonny disposition, or rehabilitating old warhorses like “The Way You Look Tonight,” or impossibly reimagining and reinvigorating a medley, “Wild Is the Wind/Sing,” we’re startled our of musical complacency.

His latest compositions, “Papillon” and “Fitnah,” have a dark/dancing quality, that - though seldom found in jazz - nevertheless plumbs the depths of this occasionally magical music. That’s the seasoning. Impossibly fleet single-note runs coupled with thick chordal ruminations imparts to this music a patina of greatness.

Tracklist: Dynamo, Swahililand, Back to the Island, It’s Magic, Wild Is the Wind/Sing, The Way You Look Tonight, Arabesque, Papillon, Fitnah