Pianist Ahmad Jamal prefers a light touch at the keyboard, a style that seems to have generated almost as much criticism as praise over the last 30 years. While it's true that he doesn't pack the percussive punch of, say, McCoy Tyner, Jamal is blessed with a sharp sense of dynamics, something which guided him through his performance at Blues Alley last night. s

Much of what he currently performs can be divided into two categories: the jaunty, often blues-based pieces that demand as much from drummer Payton Crossley as from Jamal himself; and the quiet, reflective ballads that typically swell into rumbling cascades and hand-over-hand sprints up the keyboard.

The former showed just how compatible Jamal and Crossley are. Crossley is a particularly resourceful drummer, accenting Jamal's stop-time rhythms incessantly. The ballads were less effective, if only because when performed back-to-back they tend to place undue stress on Jamal's stylistic devices.

Still, there were plenty of surprises -- among them a fanciful solo that quoted from "My Favorite Things" and a swinging, vibrant look at the "Theme from M*A*S*H." Ahmad Jamal appears through Sunday at Blues Alley.