[audio:http://blogs.kcrw.com/music/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/02-Blue-Moon-11.mp3|titles=02 Blue Moon 1]I have always loved Ahmad Jamal. So did Miles Davis, who always seemed to recognize true originals. Miles was an epicurean, an admirer in women, cars, and music. Back when I was in college I’d put his lp Naked City Theme on my turntable and set it on repeat. I’d go to sleep every night to his music, taking those sweet yet powerful sounds into my dreams. He turned 81 last year. But his powers and playing have not diminished one bit. He is just as compelling as ever.
Nobody ever played like him….Jamal is unique among pianists. Whereas Jarrett, Hancock, Tyner, Peterson and Evans all have pianist admirers who emulate them, nobody sounds quite like Ahmad except Ahmad. Steve Kuhn might be the only exception–he is a jazz veteran and fabulous pianist himself. Ahmad’s runs, his powerful chords and attacks, his concise improvisations all make him a true original. His sudden and abrupt changes. His touch. His dazzling runs, his staccato notes, his powerful bass chords. The way he ends songs (many bands do not know how to end songs; they just stop playing). Just listen to the gorgeous, sweeping and iconic track “Poinciana” from the classic 50s album Live at the Pershing. Keith Jarrett and others have covered it, but Ahmad will always own it. Jamal was then house pianist at that Chicago Nightspot, before opening up his own club, The Alhambra, which closed not long after opening. You can’t keep the doors open if you don’t sell drinks.
I’m sad that one great session from the Argo vaults (the live date Naked City Theme). and all of the Cadet lp’s recorded in the 1960s have never been reissued on cd. There’s great music there. Fortunately I have all the lp’s and a decent turntable to enjoy them.
The new lp is called Blue Moon, on the Jazz Village label, and is being distributed by Harmonia Mundi. It comes out mid-February. Jamal’s versions of the title track, the David Raksin classic “Laura”, are divine. Holding everything down is Jamal’s bassist is Reginald Veal, a veteran of Branford Marsalis’ bands as well as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. And it’s great to see Jamal working again with two drummers: longtime partner Herlin Riley on traps and the gifted Manolo Badrena on percussion. Ahmad is a very percussive pianist and the interplay between the veteran jazz drummer and the Puerto Rican percussionist gives Jamal endless stimulation. Listen to the title track and you find a synergy as smooth as a Porsche gearbox. The two drummers work as a foil to his creative imagination, a backdrop. Ahmad improvises on it all, and you can’t miss their synergy: it’s everywhere on this album. Ahmad loves it all, he relishes it. The improvisation on the their version of Bronislaw Kaper’s great song “Invitation”, is absolutely brilliant, as good as it gets. God bless Ahmad Jamal. There is nobody like him. Nobody.
p.s. It’s two months later, and I’m still listening to the new album and loving it. His touch, the way he ends songs, the constant surprises, the rhythmic snap of the two drummers. It’s classic and forever.
I found this clip from a 1959 televised session where he does the standard “Darn That Dream”. There are some heavyweights in the audience, see Ben Webster at around 1:52. Papa Jo Jones, drummer with Count Basie, is there at the end. So I think was Annie Ross and Art Farmer. And maybe critic Nat Hentoff too, the guy smoking the pipe.