FEW PIANISTS in or out of jazz can make a grand piano sound quite as grand as Ahmad Jamal does on his new album "Crystal."
As he wends his way through 10 original and somewhat labyrinthine pieces, the dynamic range extends from the faintest melodic filigree to thunderous crescendos. If the piano is indeed a mini-orchestra, capable of creating myriad voices and textures, Jamal wields a mighty baton.
Still, Jamal's albums are only as strong as his tunes, and his ability to edit himself. On "Crystal," he mostly curbs his tendency to extend a tune well beyond its initial melodic appeal (so that you're not left wondering if the theme will ever return again). Not only are the performances relatively short, with only two of them running over five minutes, the best of them are cohesive as well.
As the title of the album suggests, the music offers a prism of moods. "Arabesque" is warm and pensive; "Avo" is boldly percussive with a Latin thrust; the lovely "For My Daughter" possesses a balletic grace. And while the focus of each tune remains squarely on the pianist, Jamal receives discreet support from a fine rhythm section.
AHMAD JAMAL -- "Crystal" (Atlantic Jazz 7 81793-1). Appearing Saturday through Thursday at Blues Alley.