Ahmad Jamal

Ahmad Jamal Complete Live at the Spotlite Club 1958 (2-CD set, Gambit Records 69265).


You may have to be an Ahmad Jamal completist like myself to take notice of this 2007 expanded edition, which adds three 1958 Chicago studio cuts, totaling about eight minutes, to the 25 live ones that have already been available. The latter tracks appeared on two well-known Jamal LPs, Ahmad Jamal and the two-disc Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal, both recorded in September 1958 at Washington, D.C.’s Spotline Club in September 5 and 6, 1958.

If memory serves, the first of these was the first Jamal record I ever bought, when I was 15 or 16, and it’s never gone stale for me —- despite the scorn heaped on Jamal by sophisticated jazz critics such as Martin Williams in Downbeat. There’s always been a curious split between the Jamal idolatry of Miles Davis –- who joined forces with Gil Evans on their first joint album to virtually steal (rather than simply play homage to) two tracks from Jamal’s 1955 Chamber Music of the New Jazz, “New Rumba” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed,” and based his Quintet’s arrangement of “All of You” in ‘Round Midnight on Jamal’s on the same LP —- and the disdain of most jazz critics, who seemed to regard Jamal’s popularity with seething resentment, much as they resented Dave Brubeck during the same period. I’ve always thought that Miles had better taste than those critics when it came to both Jamal and Brubeck (whose lovely compositions “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “The Duke” were both played by Davis -– along with “Someday My Prince Will Come,” which I believe Brubeck was the first to adopt as a jazz standard).

Of course, both Brubeck and Jamal have been unapologetic eclectics throughout their career; the uninhibited pounding attack of Brubeck and the light upper-register tinkle of Jamal have always helped to define the singularity of each of them as musicians. And what delights me the most about the third new track of Jamal on the new Gambit set, “Taking a Chance on Love,” less than two minutes long, is the joy he manages to squeeze out of that unfashionable Vernon Duke tune itself, even when he moves further and further away from its contours in his solo before splashing back into its embrace in his final chorus – still allowing Israel Crosby’s bass to take over the conclusion of each phrase and even the entire bridge before the abrupt sign-off, after the final eight bars. [5/22/08]

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