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Ahmad Jamal: Poinciana (Chess BMCA 004)


Found this one amidst a budget-priced stash...and now, it’s become one of my all-time favourites, even though I (almost) didn’t buy it at the time... Once known only as “Fritz Jones” - do you wonder he made the change? - Ahmad Jamal is one of the great “lost” influences upon modern jazz, despite scoring some freak hits during the fifties. But still...this was the man of whom Miles Davis once said:

“I live until he makes another record.”

No small praise, eh? And this from someone not lightly given to acclaim... Now, the key thing about Ahmad Jamal - the thing that still rings like a bell in his work - is the nigh-on unique space he accords his rhythm section...something that Miles evidently learnt from, and that has thus subsequently influenced much of the best music that has followed. And, this is even more startling when you realize that he is a pianist...

But...describing his piano style is, to put it bluntly, bloody difficult. Sure, he’s clearly indebted to the Earl Hines/Teddy Wilson minimalist model...you know, the one that keeps well out of the way of the rhythm section. But his “voice” is even more sparse than theirs, whilst at the same time being so clearly post-bop that it is inimitable. Think uncannily lean midrange/treble rhythm/lead phrasing, that seems perfectly balanced between “easy listening” - horrible phrase - and minimalism, and you’ll begin to get the picture...

And, arguably, this live set is his best, as the trio here is purely uncanny in their near-telepathic interplay...at times verging on some kind of accessible “avant gardism” - doncha hate those words? - that is nigh-on unique. Because...the acoustic bass & drums are stunningly adept at keeping out of each others’ way - resulting in a trio approach where all three instruments function effortlessly on the rhythm/lead level - unlike any other piano trio I’ve ever heard.

Some grooves lock in...poised in some weirdly accessible (I keep falling back on that weasel-word) yet strange zone that so few bands can attain. Others turn & re-turn, navigating around obstacles only these three can see...

But...I’ve just realized that I’ve totally failed to accentuate the thing that really elevates this stuff. Which is its unrelenting physicality. Three players, working together like some tripatate body/brain...and yet, still goddamn pretty. This is one that every band - of whatever stripe - genuinely ought to hear. Just to teach them what genuinely human rhythmic/melodic interplay - in real time - is capable of.

just listen...




John Henry Calvinist