Celebrating the 50th anniversary of his landmark recording of “Poinciana,” Ahmad Jamal encored the piece in a politely designed and refined performance. The vet pianist played with his trademark feathery grace that’s often accented by boldly explosive chords. Jamal’s opening set found him in the company of a rhythmic trio governed by percussionist Manolo Badrena, whose dancing fingers provided a relentlessly pulsating tempo for the entire repertoire.
Jamal’s musical statements are keenly focused and sharply balanced between his familiar breeziness and defiantly robust attacks. His own “Papillon” floated lyrically as on the wings of a butterfly. He embroiders his lines with melodic filigree and tasteful keyboard designs.
When Jamal swings he gets unconditional support from timekeeper James Tare Johnson III and bassist James Cammack. His fluency is decidedly impressive despite a repetitively lucid approach and some florid embellishment. On occasion, he will use certain figures and phrases repeatedly, but chalk that up to a personal style.
The LCJO assembled for the concert’s more richly satisfying second portion, adding considerable grit and glory. The Jamal trilogy served as an admirable season opener for Gotham’s favorite band. A long, brisk and bright open horn solo by leader Wynton Marsalis fueled the pianist’s Latin-flavored composition “The Afternoon.” Escalated by a warm Sherman Irby tenor solo, the piece was bookended with a pulsating, slow-burn trombone turn by Elliot Mason.
The concert never quite recovered from the Tuscan heat generated by an ensemble that echoed with the familiar glories of the sunny Miles Davis landscape “Sketches of Spain.” A waltzing “Should I?” was graced by a politely flavored flute quartet governed by a sprightly Ted Nash solo.
Victor Goines’ gritty tenor brought luster to “Devil’s in My Den.” Trombonist Chris Crenshaw stepped up from that crisply united brass section to cap the evening with tailored tone and texture.
Marsalis kept a low profile this time around, but his vision and leadership remain the strength of the organization.