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Albums We Love: Ahmad Jamal's "Saturday Morning"

Ahmad Jamal “Saturday Morning: La Buissone Studio Sessions,” 2013, Jazz Village

Ahmad Jamal has been playing the piano for 80 years, and by this point he has surely earned the title of “master.”

The refreshing thing about Jamal is that most people become calmer in old age, but not him. He’s gotten jauntier, more playful, and more risk-taking as he’s aged, his earlier works being more reserved. The more albums he records, the more the fire ignites under his fingers.

Similar to his 2012 record Blue Moon, the new record, Saturday Morning, explores, punctuates, and dramatizes the space in-between the notes. It is a masterpiece, reminding the listener of the early trio days, but seasoned with a newer groove.

“Back to the Future” is the opener: a jaunty tune, playing with the percussion rhythms of Manolo Badrena, formerly of the Weather Report. His flighty fingers and signature space-time contrast are evident on his cascading solos. Bassist, Reginald Veal is spotlighted on the tune with a fiery solo.

Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster’s “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” is played gracefully, occasionally slipping in to the catchiest parts of Strayhorn and Ellington’s “Take the A Train.” Again, Jamal’s piano cascades and dances with tenderness, punctuated by the subtle drumming of Haren Riley.

“One” has an infectious groove, originally a tune Jamal recorded in 1978 from 20th Century Fox Records. Long-time Jamal fans will love this bonus. “Saturday Morning” is delightfully minimal with a light groove, soothing and trance-like. The same phrasing is repeated constantly in the extended version, but works with Jamal’s playfulness. There is a shorter, three-and-a-half minute radio version of the title track at the end of the record.

Seasoned and accomplished, 83 year-old Jamal has proven himself once again, showing that skill and ability only improve with time.

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