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CD Review: Ahmad Jamal – The Legendary OKEH & Epic Recordings

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Listening to Ahmad Jamal is like eating. It’s something that’s needed for survival. Ahmad crafts sophisticated beats and tones into seemingly simple melodies. The tracks are so seamless that, even though this album is a compilation, the tracks seem naturally juxtaposed. “Pavanne” is the best track and also the most unorthodox. There’s so much blend and variety in the song that it’s hard to describe the numerous beat, style and tempo changes. Ahmad isn’t a straight-forward musician, he zig-zags and flips multiples of four before he’s done.

The Trio of Jamal (piano), Ray Crawford (guitar) and Eddie Calhoun (bass) composed the first six tracks. The rest are played with Israel Crosby on bass instead of Calhoun. Miles Davis was Jamal’s biggest fan. Davis once said, “all of my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal. I live until he makes another record.” A song like “Don’t Blame Me” is a perfect example of Davis’ praise of Jamal’s use of space: “He lets it go so that you can feel the rhythm section and the rhythm section can feel you.” The pauses are very deliberate; the song constantly tries to bring you in. That’s ultimately what Jamal wants to do with his music: bring you in.

About Tan The Man

I am a proud dork and loser.
  • godoggo

    I also love, occasionally (depends largely on the rhythm section), his more recent work, which just seems to be at the opposite extreme: wildly florid – it seems that he decided at some point to stop holding his astounding virtuosity in check. I think a nice middle ground album is The Awakening, from I think 1970.

  • godoggo

    Gosh, 10 comments on the Bad Plus and just me on this towering figure?

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    That’s the thing: he’s a towering figure, but one who sort of gets hidden in the background. Jamal, for all his brilliant work, is probably best-known for Miles’s shout-outs to him.

    It’s hard to explain to lay people about “innovative use of space.” :-)

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    Surprisingly, not many people like jazz. It’s weird, since almost every genre of music is derived from jazz. Honestly, I probably would never have heard of Jamal if it weren’t for Davis’ shout-outs.

  • Shark

    Tan, you da man.

    IMO, Jamal is a Musical God.

    Quick Story: when I was about 13, I was flipping through a friend’s Cool Stepfather’s vinyl — and came upon an album that — no hyperbole — was a musical, Life-Changing Experience.

    It was “But Not For Me — Live at the Pershing” by Jamal and trio; it turned me onto jazz — and is still one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

    Thanks for the tribute to one of America’s best.

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    I’m gonna have to pick that up… thanks!

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Well, Tan, I might not go that far (that “almost every genre of music is derived from jazz”). I’d say that almost every genre of [American] music is derived from the blues, but jazz is the most arty of those so it should really get more attention. Of course, being arty is probably exactly why it DOESN’T.

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    True… blues, jazz, ragtime – they are the foundation of [American] music. What do you think is the foundation of European music?

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Ooh! Good question!

    My opinion: the music of the early Catholic Church. Gregorian chant, devotionals, pieces for mass, etc. That’s where basic harmonies and orchestral arrangements developed.

    Plus the minor fact that before the Reformation there wasn’t any other music ALLOWED in Europe. :-)

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    Makes sense. Does it influence contemporary Euporean music? If so, which bands? I know there’s a lot of American pop influence on European music.

  • godoggo

    I’ll answer, even though the answer wasn’t asked of me ? any music that is based on chords, or on the various modes of the major scale, is ultimately derived (at least partially) from church music.

    I tend to see Black American music in three branches (though they often overlap with each other, as they do with pretty much any other musical forms that musicians may run across, as well as other arts): gospel, blues, and jazz. Jazz comes from parade music, both directly and interectly, via ragtime (originally syncopated piano interpretations of marching band music). Anyway, I’d say that, of the three, the dominant influence in popular music, especially what’s known as, ahem, Urban Contemporary, is gospel.

  • godoggo

    It occurs to me that there’s a lot of old secular European music that’s also based on the European modes (modes of the major, and I guess also the melodic and harmonic minor), but it’s not as developed as church music.

  • godoggo

    One other comment: Miles’s praise was probably kind of shocking to a lot of critics ad hep jazz fans, who tended to dismiss him as coctail jazz

  • Shark

    Re. Miles’: “…all of my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal…”

    Jamal practices a creative use of silence; he also does magical stuff at the upper end of the piano that no one other pianist ever did.

    Check out the “Live at Pershing” for numerous examples.

  • Niamaat

    I had a weird image of Ahmad tonight 9/18/05. I got up, puttered around and then decided to google “Ahmad Jamal email”–not that he uses email but maybe someone close to him does. Anyway, if any of you are in touch with him ask him to take care–diet, exercise, surroundings. It was a startling image, just his face, and he wasn’t well. Of course he’s probably just fine and it’s probably me who ate something that didn’t agree with me which induced the unpleasant dream. Oh, and the music? Crystal is probably my favorite. I was introduced to Ahmad’s music in a big way through the Crystal album/CD.

  • godoggo

    Sorry if I’m blabbering too much.

    Anyway, I think the influence was more on Miles’s arrangements than his playing. I know he borrowed some bass vamps, for example, although I don’t have anything here to compare. I seem to remember the riff from Kind of Blue on an Ahmad album.

    Again, he uses a lot less space nowadays. Kind of reminds me of McCoy, or that Cuban guy who always plays with Charlie Haden (too lazy to google – oh, yeah, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, I think it’s spelled).

    A real good one he did not too long ago was the one with George Coleman, umm, Utopia? Something like that.

  • Shark

    godoggo: “…Again, he uses a lot less space nowadays.”

    True.

    Which leads me to the opinion that his early stuff (the trio) was his best.

  • JR

    Saw him about a week ago. For free.

    It was great.

    His current bass player is amazing, by the way.

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    Lucky…

  • godoggo

    Shark:

    Obviously a matter of taste. I think he’s clearly less consistent now. I think part of the reason is that on his early stuff a pretty large portion of what he played was clearly worked out beforehand, whereas nowadays he’s a pretty pure improvisor. On his earlies stuff the improvised part seems to consist of little flourishes sprinkled throughout the solos. Also, I nowadays he seems to change rhythm sections from recording to recording rather than working with a regular group. I’d say that when he’s inspired I prefer the way he plays now, but I love both ways. Again, I recommend the Awakening as a recording that has a bit of the best of both worlds.

    I meant “All Blues” above, not “Kind of Blue.”

  • JR

    Ahmad Jamal’s current live performances seem to have a lot of amazingly tight ensemble work; that stuff is either worked out beforehand or those guys are mindreaders. (He does give quite a few onstage queues, but the guys still have to know what to play on his signal.) I think he’s been working with the current rhythm section, Idris Muhammad and James Cammack, for a few years now.

    Anybody who has the chance should go see him. He’s playing Royce Hall in a couple of months, I envy anyone who gets to see that.

  • godoggo

    I really am full of crap, ya know.