The Legendary OKEH & Epic Recordings
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2005, Volume 12, #10
Written by John Metzger
Sometimes it can take years for an artist to get his due. Such is the case with Ahmad Jamal, a jazz pianist who rose to prominence in 1958 when, propelled by the hit single Poinciana, his live effort Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me nearly topped the pop charts. Despite the fact that Miles Davis not only had been praising him publicly for years but also had drawn upon his uncluttered style to construct the foundation for his first great quintet, Jamal struggled in the wake of his commercial success to regain his artistic credibility. Even though one easily can hear the seeds of Davisí classic So What sprouting from within the bubbly refrains of Pavanne, itís only now that Jamal is gaining the respect that he always has deserved.
Compiling selections that were captured at a trio of studio sessions from 1951, 1952, and 1955 ó all of which previously were issued on the long out-of-print LPs The Piano Scene of Ahmad Jamal and The Ahmad Jamal Trio ó the 76-minute outing The Legendary OKEH & Epic Recordings beautifully highlights the magnificence that Davis recognized in Jamalís material. Employing an economical touch, Jamal effortlessly demonstrates his innovative approach by shifting moods, seemingly on a whim, as he intuitively blurs the line that separates his breathtaking melodic runs from his subtle harmonic shadings. Frequently cited as much for his dynamic range as he is for the manner in which he gives the music room to breathe, Jamal transforms each of the 21-tracks on the album into a miniature symphony by utilizing simply a trio of piano, bass, and guitar. Of particular note is his playfully loose rendition of The Surrey with the Fringe on Top as well as his inventive reinterpretation of Fats Wallerís Squeeze Me. Even so, itís the delicate and lovely space that he explores to its fullest on Crazy He Calls Me that serves as the setís ultimate highlight. Though he would further refine his style ó and Davis subsequently would carry it lightyears into the future ó The Legendary OKEH & Epic Recordings provides a insightful examination of Jamalís highly influential and remarkably focused early work.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box