Half Notes: Ahmad Jamal – Ahmad's Blues (1958)

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Ahmad Jamal originally recorded this concert at The Spotlite Club, in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 6, 1958. Featured is the same terrific trio that had that Top 40 hit with “Poinciana” — Jamal, bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier. That signature song, which charted for 108 weeks (then unprecedented for a jazz record) allowed Jamal the financial freedom to continue climbling toward the vistas heard into the 20th century, long after many of post-bop contemporaries had passed. Throughout, the tunes on “Ahmad’s Blues” seize up, then release, in the most brilliant ways. These open spaces allow Crosby and Fournier to add orchestral flourishes, while the pianist moves in contrary motion. Highlights include subtly ingratiating cuts like “It Could Happen to You,” “Squatly Roo,” and “A Gal in Calico.” The updated title tune (embedded below) goes back to 1948, during an early-career stint with a song and dance team out of East St. Louis. Jamal also had a winking sense of humor — beginning, for instance, “Stompin’ at the Savoy” on this one with a quote of “La Marsellaise.” Makes sense, then, that Miles Davis would not only borrow from Jamal’s repertoire but insist, it’s said, that Red Garland try to emulate him. “Ahmad’s Blues,” initially released as two LPs, was combined on one disc by GRP in the early 1990s.

Nick’s Pick: The wonderful “Let’s Fall in Love.” Like the whole album, there’s a close swinging rhythm — yet it’s still roomy enough to allow the interlocking musicians to listen, then react within the tune. Jamal, exciting but never so obvious as to be overpowering, was one of the few pianists in the 1950s who did not sound like another Bud Powell.

Half Notes is a quick-take music feature on Something Else! Reviews, presented whenever the mood strikes us.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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