Ahmad Jamal featuring Yusef Lateef – Live At The Olympia, June 27, 2012 – Jazz Village JV 570053.55 2 CDs (107:01) + DVD (104:20) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

(Ahmad Jamal – piano; Reginald Veal – double bass; Herlin Riley – drums; Manolo Badrena – percussion; Yusef Lateef – saxophones, flutes, vocals)

Ahmad Jamal has come a long way from his Pittsburgh, PA roots. A musical prodigy, he was signed to Okeh Records by John Hammond. The Ahmad Jamal Trio (a name disliked by the artist) took the jazz world by storm.

While he was prominent in the be-bop era (known for its rapid displays of instrumental virtuosity and improvisation), Jamal explored a different approach to jazz, attempting to control the spaces and time of rhythm and tempo. With an emphasis on riffs, timbre and phrases, he was able to blend certain classical perspectives with jazz, paving the way for pianists like Bill, Evans, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. Occasionally dismissed by bebop purists, a new generation of what would later be described as “cool jazz” adopted this concept. Miles Davis has acknowledged the influence of Jamal. Ahmad Jamal’s staggering catalogue has been celebrated for decades. Usually performing in a trio, he remains an innovative composer and live performer.

Jazz Village has a released a 2-CD and DVD of an historic 2012 performance by Jamal. Live At The OlympiaJune 27, 2012. Jamal performs the first set (comprised mostly of material from his 2012 CD release, Blue Moon) with his quartet. For the second set, he is joined by another legend, saxophonist/flutist Yusef Lateef (just 18 months before his passing). The quartet comes out swinging on “Autumn Rain”. After a drum downbeat (Herlin Riley) and percussion (Manolo Badrena) opening, Jamal slides in with his deft chords. His phrasing alternates between ethereal nimbleness and prominent, muscular flourishes. Age has not slowed his instrumental flair or arrangement expertise. A certain highlight is the up-tempo groove-fest on “Blue Moon”. With a propulsive urgency (including a great doublebass line by Reginald Veal), this romantic ballad is transformed into an exotic jam fest. Jamal’s piano leads and rhythmic subtlety are inventive. There is a wistful break at the 4:30 mark and Badrena provides a nice counterpoint to the piano riffs. The Rodgers/Hart classic sounds crisp and regenerated. The quartet is capable of establishing moody agility on “The Gypsy”.

Jamal’s piano elegance is prevalent throughout the set, especially on “I Remember Italy” (which features a lyrical waltz time) and a spry cover of “Laura”. But the ensemble really cooks on extended numbers like “Invitation” and “This Is The Life”. The former showcases dazzling piano runs and driving rhythms with a Latin-infused ambiance. “This Is The Life” explores soulful jazz in a very melodic way. Jamal’s finger-snapping chords and swing notation are fluid. Veal shines on a brisk solo.

Opening the second set, special guest Yusef Lateef delights the crowd with his quirky, staccato tenor saxophone and dreamy flute renderings on “Exatogi” (as Jamal takes a break). He returns on “Masara” (another Lateef original), creating a mixture of dizzying piano and atmospheric flute is dynamic and engaging. Latif provides vocals on “Trouble In Mind” (a piece he played oboe on with Cannonball Adderley in the 1960s) and a haunting version (with some weird hand/voice noises) of Richard M. Jones’ gospel classic, “Brother Hold Your Light”. The evening closes with the quartet offering an encore of “Blue Moon” and a crowd-pleasing version of his popular “Poinciana”.

The audio sound quality of the CD is excellent. The instruments have excellent clarity and the mix is balanced. As a bonus, there is a DVD of the entire concert. There may be more definitive Ahmad Jamal live recordings, but Live At The OlympiaJune 27, 2012 is nothing short of historic!


CD 1: Autumn Rain; Blue Moon; The Gypsy; Invitation; I Remember Italy; Laura; Morning Mist; This Is The Life

CD 2: Exatogi; Masara; Trouble In Mind; Brother Hold Your Light; Blue Moon; Poinciana

DVD: Autumn Rain; Blue Moon; The Gypsy; Invitation; I Remember Italy; Laura; Morning Mist; This Is The Life; Exatogi; Masara; Trouble In Mind; Brother Hold Your Light; Blue Moon (Encore); Poinciana

—Robbie Gerson