Jazz CD Reviews

Ahmad Jamal – Saturday Morning – Jazz Village

Ahmad Jamal confirms his place as a unique exploratory contemporary pianist.

Published on September 17, 2013

Ahmad Jamal – Saturday Morning – Jazz Village JV570027, 62:37 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

(Ahmad Jamal – piano; Reginald Veal – doublebass; Herlin Riley – drums; Manolo Badrena – percussion)

In the book Miles Davis And American Culture published in 2001 and edited by Gerald Lyn Early, Miles Davis is quoted as saying the following about Ahmad Jamal: “Listen to the way Jamal uses space. He lets it go so that you can feel the rhythm section, and the rhythm section can feel you. It’s not crowded”. These comments made about Jamal early in his career, are as accurate today and they were then. With the release of Saturday Morning , Jamal confirms that he is a unique exploratory pianist not only among his living peers, but also among those former contemporaries who have passed on.

This eleven-track session was recorded at Studio La Buissonne, Pernes-Les Fontaines, France and is dominated by seven original compositions from Jamal covering a range of themes and time signatures all of which are an eclectic take on contemporary piano jazz. Now in his eighty-third year, Jamal attacks the keyboard with a percussive style and energy that belies his age. Never one to rest on his laurels, Jamal and his musical cohorts Reginald Veal, doublebass, Herlin Riley, drums and Manolo Badrena, percussion, deliver track after track with an unmistaken touch and melodious effort. Leading off with “Back To The Future” which is taken at a no-nonsense pace with a Latin bounce, then segues into 4/4 time and back again to the Latin touch, Jamal shows abundant harmonic cleverness. With Marjorie Goetschius/Edna Osser‘s lovely ballad “I’ll Always Be With You” Jamal demonstrates his sensitivity and conviction to the underlying melody with abundant trills and flourishes. Jamal’s own composition “Saturday Morning” is given two readings with an extended version over ten minutes and then condensed to a nice effect with a radio-play effort of just over three minutes. The tune has a “Poinciana”-like sensibility with a repeating Latin rhythm on which Jamal overlays his flourishes, returning again and again to the main theme.

Ahmad Jamal has been an innovator on the piano for more than fifty years with an unpredictable style and out-of-the-box notions on rhythm, harmony and dynamic forces. He never hesitates to use these principles whether on his own compositions such as the oblique “Edith’s Cake” or the more straight-forward “Silver” which is dedicated to Horace Silver. When embarking on Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” he takes the familiar theme and finds interesting ways to add quotes from  a couple of other Ellington gems such as “Take The ‘A’ Train” and “Just Squeeze Me” to give the tune a lilt that takes it out of the ordinary.

In the coming month, Ahmad Jamal will be playing in New York City, Pittsburg Pennsylvania, and Davis California. Make an effort to see this musical gem if you can.

TrackList: Back To The Future; I’ll Always Be With You; Saturday Morning; Edith’s Cake; The Line; I’m In The Mood For Love; Firefly; Silver; I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good; One; Saturday Morning(Reprise)

—Pierre Giroux

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