LABELS: GRP (Chess)
WORKS: Ahmad’s Blues
PERFORMER: Ahmad Jamal
CATALOGUE NO: T8032
Pianist Ahmad Jamal is one of the great enigmas of jazz. How has he excited praise from musicians as diverse as Art Tatum, Miles Davis, Anthony Braxton, Gil Evans, pianist Bill Evans and respected critic and entrepreneur John Hammond, yet is still held at arm’s length by the critical fraternity and a large slice of the jazz public? One reason perhaps was that his 1958 hit record But not for me (Chess) rode the charts for over 100 weeks, thus laying him open to charges of being a populist.
Yet Jamal’s trio, with bassist Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier on drums, was an object lesson in playing ‘time’ and managing to swing consistently and effortlessly with an instantly identifiable sound. Their exemplary performances on Ahmad’s Blues, a reissue of material recorded at the Spotlite Club in Washington, DC on 6 September 1958, at last provides an opportunity for a radical reassessment of Jamal’s contribution to jazz. The tide track highlights how each musician was acutely aware of what was required of them at any precise moment; their rhythmic lightness and their wide range of dynamic control are still an object lesson for rhythm sections today. This is Jamal at his best and should be studied with care. Stuart Nicholson