Ahmad Jamal "It's Magic" New York Times Review

by Ben Ratliff, New York Times
July 6, 2008

The jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal is a master of contrasts, and on his new record “It’s Magic” (Dreyfus) his music is typically playful and truculent. There are a few standards here (“The Way You Look Tonight,” “Wild Is the Wind”) among the originals, but you don’t come away from this record with melodies; it’s his process, with his simple four-piece band, that you find yourself marveling at. And what kind of contrasts? First is loud/soft, his ace in the hole since the 1950s — his alternation of tickling and thundering. Then there’s fast/slow, as he breaks into a run mid-ballad. There’s background/foreground, the way he keeps flicking his attention between repetitive vamps — pure rhythm-section hypnosis — and witty improvisations and quotations from old songs. And then there’s behind the beat/ahead of the beat. His drummer, Idris Muhammad, uses a sly, minimal, laid-back groove, but often Mr. Jamal seems impatient and flies forward. It’s all a perfect demonstration of how to get around clichés while playing music with a long history.