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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Complete Alhambra and Blackhawk Performances

Jazz Lips JL 759




1. We Kiss in a Shadow
2. Sweet and Lovely
3. The Party's Over
4. Love For Sale
5. Snow Fall
6. Broadway
7. Willow Weep For Me
8. Autumn Leaves
9. Isn't It Romantic?
10. The Breeze and I
11. Time On My Hands
12. Angel Eyes
13. You Go to my Head

1. Star Eyes
2. All of You
3. You're Blasé
4. What Is This Thing Called Love?
5. Medley: I'll Take Romance/My Funny Valentine
6. Like Someone in Love
7. Falling in Love with Love
8. The Best Thing For You
9. April In Paris
10. The Second Time Around
11. Darn That Dream
12. Two Different Worlds
13. Night Mist Blues
14. On Green Dolphin Street
Ahmad Jamal - Piano
Israel Crosby - Bass
Vernel Fournier - Drums

I am old enough to remember the time when, after the Second World War, desperate jazz fans tuned in to the American Forces Network because it played jazz that you seldom heard on British radio. My Father bought an early model of a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and I recall his recording an exceptional pianist we heard on AFN. My Dad only caught part of his name - "Jamal" - but his playing was a revelation.

Unlike some other pianists, Ahmad Jamal was a consummate artist in using space, as this double CD illustrates. It contains two live sessions recorded in 1961 - the first at Ahmad Jamal's own club, the Alhambra in Chicago; the second at the Blackhawk in San Francisco. This was three years after Ahmad burst on the scene with an album recorded at the Pershing Hotel in Chicago. I can thoroughly recommend that album (although be careful which version you buy: it has been released with anything between eight and 19 tracks!).

The Pershing album was by the same trio as you can hear on this double album, so the members knew each other well and played together with complete empathy. Jamal is certainly not an easy pianist to accompany, as he switches without warning from quiet passages (or even complete silence) to sudden outbursts on the piano. And yet the impetus keeps going, even when Ahmad is not actually playing. The whole trio sets a rhythm so firmly that it stays in your head. Israel Crosby maintains a steady beat which holds things together even when Jamal suddenly changes what he is doing. In fact Crosby's beat is often so strong as to sound like thumping (e.g. in The Party's Over) but it emphasises the rhythm tellingly. I suspect that Vernel Fournier was adding to the effect by playing four-in-a-bar on the bass drum, like most drummers used to do.

Bill Evans is frequently credited with revolutionising the piano trio by incorporating the bass and drums as equal participants with the piano, but Ahmad Jamal was already doing this in his work at the Pershing, Alhambra and Blackhawk. A good example of this occurs in the very first track - We Kiss in a Shadow (not "the Shadow", as the sleeve gives it) - where the piano lays out for some while, leaving the bassist to keep the melody going. And drummer Vernel Fournier is a vital part of the sound - particularly by his inventive use of the tomtoms and his steady beat on the cymbals. Hear how he sets up a marching rhythm beneath The Breeze and I.

Meanwhile Ahmad Jamal varies the music by a host of devices, including not only his long pauses but also by a variety of runs (which are as impressive as those of Art Tatum) and setting up riffs which derive from the melody despite often being entirely unexpected. And the melody is crucially important to Ahmad: his improvisations seldom stray too far away from the tune. This makes his playing accessible to every kind of listener - but it doesn't stop him throwing in all kinds of quirky quotations (for example, I Got It Bad in You Go to my Head and Mairzy Doats in All of You).

Sadly Israel Crosby died the year after these recordings were made, and Vernel Fournier died in 2000. But Ahmad Jamal is still going strong and playing brilliantly. If you don't know his work, you should explore it. This album is as good a place as any to start.

Tony Augarde





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