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Posted October 12, 2010
If you like early Miles you should listen to Jamal. Even if you don't!
I had an Ahmad Jamal record as a kid - Live at the Blackhawk.I bought it because Nat Hentoff rated it a 'recording of special merit' in Stereo Review. It came to be one of my favorite records. I only wish I had bought additional Jamal records from the same period! But that gives me the opportunity to discover them today. The late 50s was a wonderful period for jazz, and Jamal's live recordings are among its highpoints. If you're too young to have experienced 50s jazz in a nightclub (I was alive but too young to get in!), these old recordings will put you in the scene. Jamal's sound was somewhat like a breezy cocktail pianist, only more dynamic and inventive -- he was a great improviser and could really swing. And there was an overall impression of substance no matter how light his touch. His groups had a nice interplay rather like Bill Evans's groups of the same period, if not as pronounced. It's almost a cliche now that Jamal's rhythm section gave him incredible support. I especially like the trio with Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier. But all the performances on this disc are great and there are obvious lines of connection to early Miles Davis, such as Billy Boy and Surrey with the Fringe On Top (which, btw, I suspect inspired Laura Nyro's line "Can you surrey, can you picnic?" She was really into Miles.) I really like the guitarist too. One thing to watch out for with early Jamal is that some of the tapes have degraded (audible wow) and the engineers haven't cleaned it up well. I am not referring to this disc since I haven't listened to all the tracks yet and I haven't heard any problems, but I think you have to monitor this on a disc by disc, track by track basis. I am not singling out any particular disc -- I think it's a problem for this period and this artist, though it may correlate with the label that did the remastering. Maybe it's an artifact of the live recording, not having the resources of a studio. Anyway, you can always sample all the tunes before buying. If you've never followed Jamal, give him a try. He really is very engaging and fun to listen to. You'll even hear some nice drum breaks from Vernell Fournier.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.