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JAZZ REVIEW : Jamal's Formula Remains Pure, Satisfying

November 26, 1987|A. JAMES LISKA

Ahmad Jamal, who opened a five-night stint at the Catalina's Bar and Grill on Tuesday night, showed the capacity crowd that a contemporary and accessible jazz sound can be created without the dubious benefit of electronic gadgetry.

Though the best-selling pianist (his current Atlantic release, "Crystal," is in Billboard's Top 10) has radically changed the sparse style he was first known for some 30 years ago, he has done so without undue concessions to popular taste. Indeed, when one of his compositions seems overly composed or orchestrated, it seems more a result of his own approach to music than of some A&R man's conception of the marketplace.

During his nine-song opening set Tuesday, Jamal and his trio of talented sidemen presented an evenly paced repertoire of tunes that showed the pianist as a talented, if somewhat limited, composer.

A formula that demanded wistful openings, complex series of stops and starts and steady builds to predictably frenetic endings characterized almost every tune Jamal presented. Though the formulaic approach grew tired, each tune nonetheless managed to satisfy.

Perhaps the satisfaction levels came from the competence of the performers. Bassist James Cammack, despite being hindered by a muddled sound, offered solid support and inventive soloing, as did percussionist Willie White and drummer David Bowler. But it was Jamal's piano style that was most pleasing. At times a bit bombastic, his gentler moments carried an awesome delicacy. His two standard outings, "Here's That Rainy Day" and " 'Round Midnight," were brilliant reminders of his rich resources of innovative improvisation.

Jamal will be at the Catalina through Saturday night.

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