Monday, September 28, 2009
Ahmad JAMAL - At The Pershing, But Not For Me 1958
Label: Chess Records
Fitzgerald once wrote that "in the dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in the morning." Sadly, he never got to experience the rapture I felt as a 22-year old (back in the days when turntables were still powered by dinosaurs, Virginia) listening while, night after night beyond counting, the all-night DJ invariably slipped on Jamal's "Poinciana" as recorded live at Chicago's Pershing at precisely three o'clock.
Hypnotic, seductive, strangely enervating in the way Jamal bounced off of Fournier's tom-toms (which were especially tuned to this song), wound his riffs around Crosby's bassline and punched his way off the counterpoint of the live audience's response, "Poinciana" served, for me, as a wake-up call, a siren song, and, most importantly, as an introduction to an individual who is today one of the late 20th century's most undervalued jazz influences.
Modern critics tend to dismiss Ahmad Jamal's work as "cocktail music" (whatever that term truly means). Miles Davis, on the other hand (and not a man given to tossing off superlatives lightly), termed Jamal one of his "major influences" (to such an extent that he reportedly tried to persuade his then-pianist, Red Garland, to "play like this cat").
So . . . who you gonna believe?
Believe your own ears. You can't go wrong. Even if you never get beyond the mesmerizing voyage of "Poinciana" (a tune which Jamal had previously recorded and would re-record several more times, though never to such effect as here), you're ahead of the game; BUT, take my word for it, you'll be missing a whole world of wonder if you dismiss the rest of this album. With "But Not For Me," for example, Jamal creates voicings which Gershwin never dreamed possible (but which, I suspect, would have thrilled him). This is a situation which happens time after time, with each song on this outing. Even "What's New" (a staple of every jazz pianist's standard repertoire, mine included) turns out to have a whole lot new about it as Jamal makes the song indelibly his own. (I listen to some of his progressions on this number and bang my head against the wall, wondering "How'd he do THAT?")
There's a bit of a warning here: If you've not previously been exposed to Ahmad Jamal, this album may prove addictive. Ultimately, you may well find yourself out and about, haunting music stores as you search out that particularly elusive CD that he recorded way back when, working without drums, just a guitarist and . . .
But then, there are worse addictions, aren't there?
By Paul Dana.
Ahmad Jamal- Piano,
Israel Crosby- Bass,
Vernell Fornier- Drums.
01. But Not for Me 3.32
02. Surrey With the Fringe on Top 2.35
03. Moonlight in Vermont 3.09
04. (Put Another Nickel in) Music Music Music 2.56
05. No Greater Love 3.26
06. Poinciana 4.05
07. Woody'n You 1.52
08. What's New 4.11