Ahmad Jamal

Big Byrd: The Essence, Pt. 2

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The elements that made The Essence Part One such a success - bright, crisp, rhythmically alive piano work often revolving around a tense bass ostinato and propulsive percussion - are abundantly present on Part Two, which was drawn from the same Paris and New York sessions but released a year after its predecessor. In no way is this a collection of leftovers; the quality level is so high that one can only conclude that marketing considerations alone prevented The Essence from being issued as a double album in the first place. Jamal fields two trios, anchored on bass by James Cammack in the Paris sessions and former colleague Jamil Nasser in the New York ones and by drummer Idris Muhammad on both. Everyone gets an extra jolt of momentum whenever the Afro-Latin percussion of Manolo Badrena goes into action, and violinist Joe Kennedy Jr. adds a potent, slightly raw-edged solo voice to "Manhattan Relfections." A muted, skittering Donald Byrd appears only on the title track - hence its name - which winds its way through several tempo changes and dramatically charged sections over a vast 15-minute timespan. Into his mid-60s, Jamal remained as distinctive and inventive a pianist as ever, with delightful surprises lurking around every bend.

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