Album cover of 'Ballades' by Ahmad Jamal

The vivid impressionism and beguiling narratives that Ahmad Jamal created in the late 1950s were a fresh approach to piano trio jazz that captivated Miles Davis and delivered a live album hit. Jamal’s accompanists of the time kept pace with the subplots that Jamal inserted at will into his solos. But the American had to wait several decades for his razor-sharp dynamics and humorous asides to find their fullest expression. A succession of postmillennial recordings capture his current working band second-guessing the pianist’s rolling tremolos and sudden bursts of speed to spellbinding effect.

As good as Jamal’s current accompanists are, this largely solo retrospective recording confirms that the blueprint for this approach remains in Jamal’s hands. The album mixes atmospheric originals with deconstructed standards, such as “I Should Care”, developed as an impressionist mist; “Poinciana”, born anew with full-pedal rumbles contrasted to gentle high-note ripples; and “Emily”, the album’s lyrical final track.

The set begins with the cityscape fantasia of “Marseille”, long-term bassist James Cammack underpinning Jamal’s left hand so closely that his presence is hardly felt. Cammack returns on the standard “So Rare”, but it is the unaccompanied rhapsody “Land of Dreams” and the subtle shades of “Because I Love You”, a tune composed during the recording session, that are the highlight tracks.

The influence of the Jamal aesthetic, as well as the American’s working rhythm section of bassist Cammack and drummer Herlin Riley, underscore Shahin Novrasli’s piano trio album From Baku to New York City. The album, recorded at the same session as Jamal’s, and released on the same label, mixes originals with be-bop classics and standards.

The Azerbaijani is at his most florid and impressionistic on the opener “Both Sides Now”, the mood-piece “Memories” and “Cry of Gulchura”, which closes the set. “Salt Peanuts” is a two-handed tour-de-force but, for the most part, the programme’s covers are swung at speed, and percussive single-note lines predominate. An interesting companion piece.

★★★★☆

Ballades’ is released by Jazz Village

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