Ahmad Jamal's live performances have been well represented in his discography over the past sixty years. Yet despite touring the globe, all Jamal's live recordingswith the exception of the DVD concert from Lebanon, Live at Baalbeck
(Birdology, 2003)document North American and European gigs. France has always accorded the Pittsburgh pianist a royal welcome, naming him an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2007;the regard is mutual, as Live at the Olympia
is Jamal's fourth live recording in the French capital since 1992. Recorded in June 2012, this double CD set captures the entire concert, with iconic multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef
joining Jamal's ensemble for the second set.
The first set features all but one of the tracks from Blue Moon
(Jazz Village, 2012) and in the same running order. Herlin Riley
, Manolo Badrena
and Reginald Veal
's lilting rhythms underpin "Autumn Rain" as Jamal glides between feathery lyricism and bold cascades. A dancing version of Rogers and Hart's 1944 classic "Blue Moon" is all about groove, with Jamal's delightfully understated comping keeping the melody flickering throughout. The quartet is in particularly playful mood on Billy Reid's "The Gypsy," a whimsical vignette whose charms work best in the live arena. The musicians hit their stride on Bronislau Kaper/Ned Washington's "Invitation," with Jamal's inventive narrativetwisting this way and thatmelodically seductive and rhythmically vital.
With four such pronounced rhythmic voices brewing up a collective storm, the sotto voce pulses and melodic elegance of "I Remember Italy" and "Laura" provide a timely swing in mood. Veal's extended bass solo announces Jamal's "Morning Mist," which flits between the delightful melody and the pianist's arresting improvisational musings. A spare yet swinging arrangement of the Lee Adams/Charles Strouse tune "This is the Life" rounds out the first CD, with Badrena working his percussive magic over Jamal's extended vamp.
The second CD sees the ninety one year old Lateef guest with Jamal's quartet, reprising the collaboration that took place at Marciac the previous year. Jamal, however, sits out the thirteen-minute "Exatogi." Switching between tenor saxophone and flute, Lateef's meditative sonorities are buoyed by Riley and Badrena's African-flavored rhythms and accents. Lateef's wordless lowing has the quality of a spiritual incantation. Jamal joins the ensemble for "Masara," maintaining a vamp as Lateef hypnotizes with a gently snaking flute improvisation.
Lateef sings on Richard M. Jones' blues standard from the 1920s "Trouble in Mind," a role he interpreted on oboe in Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
's sextet in the 1960s. Lateef's vocal on "Brother Hold your Light" is infused with the spirit of gospel, soul and the blues. Jamal's rhapsodic comping undulates in intensity, while Badrena's (tambourine-filtered?) contorted cries bring an otherworldy edge to the music. Jamal's quartet encores by briefly revisiting the melody of "Blue Moon" before launching into the perennial crowd-pleaser "Poinciana." Live at the Olympia
may not be the definitive Jamal live recording but in bringing together the pianist and Lateefwho died in 2013it is certainly an historic one.
Track Listing: CD1: Autumn Rain; Blue Moon; The Gypsy; Invitation; I Remember Italy; Laura; Morning Mist; This is the Life.
CD2: Exatogi; Masara; Trouble in Mind; Brother Hold Your Light; Blue Moon (reprise); Poinciana.
Personnel: Ahmad Jamal: piano; Reginald Veal: double bass; Herlin Riley: drums; Yusef Lateef: tenor saxophone, flute, vocals.