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Nature features beautiful bookends, opening and closing with very different versions of "If I Find You Again," a Jamal original. His quartet delivers the opening track, and Othello Molineaux's steel drums carry the arresting melody with a tropical feel. Jamal solos and punctuates with authority, summoning darker tones from the piano's lower registers as the bass and drums drive along at a medium pace. "Like Someone in Love" and "The End of a Love Affair" are songs as bright and cheerful as the field of sunflowers on the album cover. Jamal's flourishing, refined playing elevates them, though jazz skeptics and purists alike might label them lounge music. But the up-tempo scorcher "Devil's in My Den," with Jamal's fellow sexagenarian Stanley Turrentine sitting in on sax, should silence such critics quickly. Same goes for "Fantastic Vehicle," a standard jazz structure with a persistent vamp and animated soloing from Jamal and Molineaux.

The reprise of "If I Find You Again" is a far more melancholy rendering than the opener. This take is a piano and steel drum duet; Jamal and Molineaux share the melody in a quieter but freer setting. The tempo changes frequently, though the song remains subdued and contemplative throughout, in the mode of Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." It's Jamal at his best, expertly using space and silence to express a distilled elegance.

-- Chris Duffy

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