Always the musician's musician, Ahmad Jamal's unique approach to the piano has been a continuing source of inspiration for six decades, influencing such giants as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, and a younger generation of keyboardist like Scott Kinsey.
Pavanne for Ahmad is a collection of eighteen of Jamal's earliest recordings for the Okeh and Argo labels between 1951 and 1955. Quite apart from the inherent beauty of Jamal's playing on these tunes, it is interesting to note how remarkably well formed his musical ideas were at such a young age.
"Ahmad's Blues, penned in 1948, is one of only three Jamal originals here. Although the definitive version wouldn't arrive until 1958 with the classic trio of bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernell Fournier, this version from 1952 contains all the Jamal trademarksthe light touch which nevertheless engenders a buoyant swing, a preference for the mid to high end of the keyboard, a slight blues vein, sudden injections of bold chords and the tremendous use of space. It is easy to see why Miles Davis loved Jamal's music so.
Jamal's philosophy here is "Why use ten notes when three will do? and his understatement really allows the songs to breathe. This characteristic use of space makes his sometimes thundering left hand and dazzling cascading runs all the more striking. This contrast between sparse and dense, light and punchyis heard to great effect on another Jamal original, "New Rumba.
Accompanied by either Eddie Calhoun or Israel Crosby on bass and Ray Crawford on guitar, the drummer-less trio brings a vitality to standards such as "It Ain't Necessarily So, "I Get a Kick Out of You, and "Love for Sale. These songs sound as fresh and inventive today as they did half a century ago. Crawford's playing throughout is outstanding, bringing to mind Barney Kessel at times, and Grant Green at others. It is no surprise after playing half a dozen years with Jamal that Crawford's style should be so refined and tasteful, and his solos a mixture of flourish and space. A retrospective of this highly talented but little-known guitarist's recordings would also be welcome and timely.
There are many gems in this collection and there's confirmation aplenty, not only of Jamal's status as a true original and one of jazz's greats, but of the fact that his drummer-less trio was one of the best jazz groups of the first half of the 1950s.
Personnel: Ahmad Jamal: piano; Ray Crawford: guitar; Eddie Calhoun: bass (1-4); Israel Crosby: bass (5-18).