Discover more from Wild Mercury Rhythm
Ahmad Jamal - Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse 1966-1968
(Jazz Detective, 2023)
“[He] knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement."
--Miles Davis, on Ahmad Jamal in Miles - the Autobiography (Simon & Schuster, 1989)
A deep listen to The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions 1956-1962 will prepare the listener to experience the music that brought Miles Davis’ praise. If that is too big a bite, survey the Live At The Pershing cuts, the ones that made Jamal famous. The pianist proved himself master of the short form performance, orbiting the sacred three minutes of the shellac 78 (with the exception of his notable performance of “Poinciana” which clocked in as a healthy 8:09).
Jamal was a different type of pianist than the two giants of the period, Bud Powell and Bill Evans, lacking the white-hot soul possession of the former and painfully cryptic introspection of the latter. Jamal was able to summon from both men their mainstream elements: melody, harmony, and rhythm, passing them through his own creative lens, creating a new and fresh approach to the Great American Songbook and beyond. Jamal was capable of creating the most progressively shaded performances from the most common material.
Zev Feldman’s archival work with Seattle’s storied jazz club, The Penthouse, brings forth Jamal material that dovetails very well from Jamal’s Argo period into the middle to late 1920s. Feldman’s archeology has resulted in two well-received Jamal releases, Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse 1963-1964 (Jazz Detective, 2022) and Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse 1965-1966 (Jazz Detective, 2022). Feldman now provides the last in this miniseries, Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse 1966-1968 (Jazz Detective, 2022).
During this two year period, Jamal’s studio output included Heat Wave (Cadet, 1966), Cry Young (Cadet, 1967), The Bright, the Blue and the Beautiful (Cadet, 1968), Tranquility (ABC, 1968), and Ahmad Jamal at the Top: Poinciana Revisited (Impulse!, 1968) all with his working trio of bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Frank Gant, who also performed on the present Penthouse recordings.
What the Penthouse performances reveal is a seasoned trio operating at a characteristic high level. Jamal’s arrangements are the thing that sets him and his material apart. His studied pianism permits him to interpolate his extensive exposure and assimilation of all genres within the jazz universe. Jamal’s unique talent is most readily heard of his extended considerations: Errol Garner’s “Misty,” Henry Mancini’s “Mr. Lucky,” Jobim’s “Corcovado, and an “Alfie” that belongs among the greatest performances recorded. Jamal’s trio can be to those of Fred Hersch, emphasizing discipline (but not at the expense of swing), precision, and invention.
Ahmad Jamal was in a class by himself and it is to Zev Feldman’s credit that this music was found and released. It provides a seamless look at Jamal during a productive period and serves as a dictionary example of small group jazz.