1. Autumn Rain
2. Blue Moon
5. I Remember Italy
7. Morning Mist
8. This is the Life
9. Woody'n You
Ahmad Jamal - Piano
Reginald Veal - Double bass
Herlin Riley - Drums
Manolo Badrena - Percussion
This is not quite the Ahmad Jamal I am familiar with. He seems to have changed his style somewhat. He has always left plenty of spaces in his works and treated tunes in unexpected ways but here he often refers to songs rather than playing them outright, and there is not much room for spaces with a busy drummer and percussionist.
Like Erroll Garner, Ahmad introduces tunes in mysterious ways which leave you wondering what is coming, and he often concentrates just on one phrase and repeats it frequently, which can become wearisome. He mingles original compositions with jazz standards, but the standards are frequently hard to recognise because of his allusive references to them.
For instance, the title-track starts with heavy drums and a bass riff before Jamal comes in with odd phrases which eventually hint at the melody of Blue Moon without actually stating it. The theme of Gypsy is suggested fiercely in hard chunks rather than as a connected number, and Bronislau Kaper's Invitation is similarly broken up into pieces which might not make sense if you didn't already know the tune. Ahmad turns songs into jigsaws which the listener is left to fit together, although there are the usual large sections of blue sky making assembly harder.
Laura is just about recognisable amid the flurries of notes and out-of-tempo passages. There's no doubting that Jamal's technique is still brilliant - and he has always taken a cavalier approach to melodies. It's just that the tendency is stronger on this album and can lead to puzzlement - or even monotony when there is too much repetition. It takes Ahmad nearly two minutes to reach the theme of Woody'n You, and even then he improvises freely on the outline of the tune.
Of the originals, Autumn Rain is a seductive melody, although at times it dissolves into decorations over a powerful bass riff. I Remember Italy sounds familiar, as if Jamal has stolen it from some other composer, although it develops into 13 minutes of blue-sky extemporization.
I don't know if this album is an advance or a retrograde step for Ahmad Jamal. But, hey, he is 81 - and pensioners should be allowed their foibles.