Ahmad Jamal's tenth US release on the French label Birdology/Dreyfus Jazz, It's Magic, was published on June 10, 2008. It has been three years since After Fajr, the critically acclaimed album The New York Times declared "one of his best" (Ben Ratliff, May 30, 2005), and Ahmad Jamal has been keeping very busy.
The 77-years old pianist, composer, arranger, producer, manager, and officier (more on that later) has been touring the world, writing new compositions, selling out concert halls, and discovering, producing, and nurturing new talent. Mr. Jamal, who has always known how to get attention and keep it, has been continuously improving his repertoire, never once resting on his laurels.
The eagerly awaited new album, from one of the most revered pianist on the international music scene, is all about remembering the past while continuing to develop new territory. Dedicated to Jean-FranГ§ois Deiber, his friend and producer who passed away just before After Fajr's release, It's Magic features six originals, two of which have never been recorded, and three standards with celluloid connection.
From the opening track, "Dynamo," Ahmad Jamal signals a new direction almost immediately. Often cited for his brilliant and expansive work in a trio format, Ahmad augments his sonic landscape with the percolating beats of percussionist Manolo Badrena, backed by his long-time rhythm section featuring drummer Idris Muhammad and bassist James Cammack. He revisits "Swahililand," his hauntingly beautiful composition, a concert favorite previously heard on After Fajr (also on 1974's Jamal Plays Jamal and 1987's Crystal), with exquisite styling and impressive command. Rarely heard "Back to the Island" is dynamic, showcasing Ahmad's faultless technique.
Ahmad Jamal delivers an unforgettable interpretation in the title track, "It's Magic," the Academy Award nominated song by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne from the film Romance on the High Seas. Ahmad shines, stunningly backed by his trio, traversing the comic highs and lows in a romance of mistaken identities, and elevates the breezy musical number to a lyrical poem.
No stranger to hit songs (Ahmad is one of the few jazz artists to score a Top 10 Pop hit with an instrumental - "Poinciana"), Ahmad has also been sampled extensively by hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z, Nas, and Common, among others. On "Wild is the Wind/Sing," Ahmad sends up a rollicking take on the popular song "Wild is the Wind" by Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin from Wild is the Wind and "Sing" written by Joe Raposo for Sesame Street (a hit for The Carpenters); and offers an inventive and unusual interpretation of the Academy Award winner for Best Original Song "The Way You Look Tonight" by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields from the Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger's film Swing Time.
Ahmad Jamal may be one of the last living titans of jazz's so-called-Golden-Era who continues to redefine modern jazz. Nowhere is this more evident than in "Fitnah" and "Papillon", two new compositions which have never been recorded.