Throughout the early 1970s and ‘80s, vibraphonist Khan Jamal was a key figure in a wildly creative and largely underrecognized Philadelphia jazz scene. From Sun Ra’s Arkestra to Odean Pope’s jazz fusion outfit Catalyst to the free-funk experiments of Jamal and Byard Lancaster’s Sounds Of Liberation, this was a time when Philly was ripe with musicians playing forward-thinking, progressive jazz. With many of these acts recording for small independent labels, most records have gone out of print. This was the case with Jamal’s 1984 opus Infinity, long considered a holy grail amongst rare jazz collectors. Jazz Room’s reissue of the highly sought-after gem puts on full display Jamal’s brilliance as an instrumentalist and bandleader.
Featuring a crew of heavy hitters—Byard Lancaster on flute and alto sax; Sunny Murray and Dwight James on drums; Omar Hill playing percussion; Reggie Curry on bass; Bernard Sammul handling piano duties; and Clifton Burton playing harmonica—the playing throughout the album is powerful, intuitive, and diverse. Stylistically, the album swings from the lush and optimistic Afro-Latin sound of “Nubian Queen” to the frantically-paced post-bop of “The Angry Young Man.” The album’s spiritual centerpiece is the hypnotic, Coltrane-inspired tune “The Known Unknown.” With its regal and majestic theme, as well as some truly inspired playing from Jamal and Sammul in particular, “The Known Unknown” speaks to the sheer quality of the music that Jamal and his cohort were making at the time. For many listeners, Infinity will be a worthy introduction to Khan Jamal and his work, and this reissue will go a long way in granting us access to what was, previously, a nearly-impossible-to-acquire classic.