An unpredictable new set from the influential pianist.
Martin Longley 2012-02-08
The veteran octogenarian pianist Ahmad Jamal has been playing an abundance of gigs in recent times, and this album acts as a timely documentation of his current working band. The sessions were recorded late last year in New York City, with Jamal’s stable quartet line-up. Bassman James Cammack might be missing, but Reginald Veal is now shoeing in seamlessly.
Strangely, Herlin Riley’s brutally cracking drum contributions ram home a straight-ahead rock-style beat for much of the duration, and Manolo Badrena’s highly dramatic percussion can sometimes be rather disconcerting. Maybe this is a trick of the mix, a quirk of the production, as when this very combo are caught live, that same aspect isn’t particularly noticeable: the quartet is usually comprised of equal voices. The most extreme example of this recorded tendency arrives with This Is the Life, as the snare hits with an alarming insistency, the two factions within the quartet sounding like they’re in a warring stand-off. The leader himself is, contrastingly, flying unfettered across the entire space, the epitome of improvisatory freedom… an abstract octopus.
This all sounds more like the new Robert Glasper album than the new Robert Glasper album itself. Jamal’s particular combination here is like the work of a much younger player, in tune with a co-existent funk-improv expression. Such is the vitality of his effervescent tinkles, his mellifluous showers.
Jamal interleaves his own compositions with a choice selection of standards and not-so-standards. The Rodgers-and-Hart title-tune receives a renewed interpretation for modern times, the drums and percussion setting up an intricate web of groove, around which Jamal roams freely. The leader works from driving repetition through to flighty embellishments.
The midway stretch features a pair of 13-minute epics, with Invitation laying a funky Latin foundation for Jamal’s pointillist rivulets. The underused Laura classic makes a welcome appearance, taking on an almost orchestral journey through its romantic moods. Jamal’s highly active mind leads to a complete absence of predictability in his soloing. The listener can never be sure where the pianist’s emphasis will be, or how his phrases will develop or conclude. The ultimate result could be classified as a highly advanced form of lounge music.