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Ahmad Jamal approaching 87 is still wonderful


Ahmad Jamal, "Marseilles" (Jazz Village, to be released digitally next week).

Jamal will be 87 on July 2. He is now, in his ninth decade, as much a product of France's unabashed love of American jazz as he is of American jazz itself. This is described as "Jamal's love letter to the iconic city in Southern France" -- the one which we're reminded, faces Africa.

It was Miles Davis who first made jazz at large understand how very much EVERYONE could learn from Jamal's capacious conception of musical space. To bolster his cause brilliantly here, he has Wynton Marsalis' drummer Herlin Riley, bassist James Commack and percussionist who could hardly be improved on for a rhythm section behind Jamalian free flights.

Unfortunately, the two vocal versions of the title composition -- one a rap by a French rapper -- are both in French and, as such, not likely to add much for American listeners. Listen, however, to the opening instrumental version of the tune, as well as a new version of "Autumn Leaves," "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," and "Baalbeck."

No one first encountering "Baalbeck" on some kind of unusual blindfold test could possibly imagine that the venturesome pianist you're listening to is 86 years old. Wonderful, despite those vocal versions of the title composition.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)


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