Miles Davis once said, “All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal,” which is high praise indeed from the legendary trumpeter. Anyone even remotely familiar with Davis knows that he did not hand out compliments lightly. Ahmad Jamal was born in July 1930, as Frederick Russell Jones, which makes him 81 years young today. One of the greatest things about jazz musicians is they just seem to get better with age, and Jamal is no exception. His new Blue Moon recording is a fine example of this.
Jamal has always worked in the “small combo” format. For Blue Moon, the quartet features Reginald Veal (double bass), Herlin Riley (drums), Manolo Badrena (percussion), and of course the great piano work of Ahmad himself. The approach works perfectly for the type of music he makes, and Blue Moon is a wonderful way of hearing what it is he does best.
The album contains nine tracks, three of which are Jamal originals. They fit in perfectly with the remaining six tunes, which come from the worlds of film, Broadway, and the standards songbook. While I certainly cannot speak for Davis, I interpret what he had to say in regards to Ahmad’s music as being somewhat vast. His piano playing is always uniquely creative, which is most definitely applicable to the trumpet playing of Miles Davis.
Blue Moon opens up with “Autumn Rain,” which is an Ahmad Jamal original. This is an excellent example of what he does best. The mid-tempo track begins with the entire band stating the theme and playing off of it. Then, about half-way through, Ahmad takes a solo which is dazzling in its virtuosity.
From there we proceed to the title track, which has been recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley to Bill Monroe, and many, many others. Jamal’s interpretation of this standard is great – and surprising. Drummer Riley and percussionist Badrena open the tune with some unexpected soloing, which immediately sets the song apart from the “usual” approach.
Next up is the classic Billy Reid-written track “Gypsy,” which hit the Billboard charts in three different versions – with the Ink Spots, Dinah Shore, and Sammy Kaye. The song has been recorded by numerous jazz artists over the years as well. The various contrasts Jamal’s quartet bring to it make the song one of the album’s highlights.
The eclectic nature of Blue Moon continues with a visit to Broadway for “Invitation,” and “This is the Life.” Jamal then goes solo for the title song of the Otto Preminger film Laura (1944), which was written by Johnny Mercer. Of the nine tunes here, I was most impressed with Ahmad’s own “I Remember Italy.” The entire quartet recieve plenty of opportunities to stretch out over the course of this 13:14 piece, and they all take full advantage of it.
Blue Moon closes with a tribute to the jazz form itself, “Woody ’N You,” written by Dizzy Gillespie. Ahmad calls the song is one of his “go-to” classics. He certainly has a history with it, as his first recorded version of it was on the Live At Pershing album from 1958.
Ahmad Jamal has recorded jazz of just about every stripe over the course of his long career, including some outstanding work for the Impulse! label in the late sixties and early seventies. Blue Moon does a brilliant job of drawing together the various strands and styles he does so well. The liner notes of this JazzVillage Records release contain a beautiful poem titled “For Ahmad Jamal” by Catherine Vallon-Barry. It is a fitting tribute to this living legend, and Blue Moon contains some fantastic music, from top to bottom this is one very strong album.