No matter what era or manifestation, the Ahmad Jamal trio has always been one of the true “treats” to experience in live jazz. The incredible dynamics, responsiveness, and penchant for high drama within the Jamal trio is of a truly legendary status, and something one must truly witness in person to be able to fully appreciate. Here then is a video document for those who’ve not yet had the opportunity to hear Jamal trio live or savor the opportunity to hear the band yet again.
Filmed at the Midem festival in 1981, it’s an excellent showcase for Jamal’s trio in its early-1980s incantation, featuring Payton Crossley on drums and Subu Adeyloa on bass. While these players are relative no-names, their obscurity should not elicit any skepticism that a couple of tunes here will not quickly cure. These are all masterful musicians whose interaction- particularly on the rhythmic level, is on a plane seldom attained by most piano trios. Crossley is one in a line of drummers who’ve played with Jamal- from Vernell Fournier on through Herlin Riley, who is steeped in the New Orleans tradition and is as capable of providing a very subtle backbeat as in straight-up swinging. Adeyloa, meanwhile, has a rich, plangent sound and takes a very confident approach throughout.
The band of course is in good hands of leadership. Ahmad Jamal, hand signals and all (for control of group dynamics) establishes a presence behind the keys here that few leaders on any instrument could match. Indeed, this goes way beyond his marvellous runs or general artistry on the piano- he is clearly mindful about how everything he does affects the group dynamic, and so- uncharacteristic perhaps for a jazz musician, he is constantly turning around to make direct eye contact with either Crossley or Adeyloa to establish a firm rapport. One sees no better here that Ahmad Jamal is clearly the master of his own domain.
The material here is mostly originals like “Appreciation”, “Morning of the Carnival” and the incredibly funky, aptly-titled “One”. “One” is really worth the price of admission alone here. Leave it to the masters to turn really basic material into a complete tour de force. “One” is only based off a simple vamp over a backbeat, but it multiplies in nuance like one wouldn't believe, and culminates with dramatic polyrhythmic layers thanks to Mr. Jamal and Payton Crossley's ongoing conversation. Also- the stop-time Jamal's trios have gained a reputation for is executed perfectly in this tune and it's a great chance to see first-hand how they pull it off. (How do they pull it off?)
The second part of the concert brings on Gary Burton as a guest soloist. This part of the concert is less memorable than the Jamal trio taken alone, but for those who have never seen Burton’s four-mallet technique on vibraphone, it’s quite a sight to behold. You will more than likely gulp at the finesse and precision involved in doing what Burton does as this reviewer did. Overall though, the two parts don’t seem to mesh that well and part of this is Jamal’s fault. He tends to make too much noise at the piano when considering the added sound of the vibes, and it comes across as being rather raucous at times as a result. The ballad feature for Burton on Autumn Leaves is a notable exception. “One” is also on this half of the concert but Burton plays too fast over the beat and the focus is no longer on the groove as much as who’s soloing.
That much withstanding, this DVD would have been plenty acceptable without the second half of the concert and especially at the reasonable price for which it is offered (generally around 15 dollars). As the only document of the Jamal trio currently on DVD and one of only a couple on video, period, it is most definitely a must-buy for all Jamal fans and for those who appreciate high rhythmic interaction, part one of this concert, especially “One”- is seminal.
Video and sound quality are as what one might expect for a 1981 video transfer onto DVD; there has been some technical improvement though, and the actual filming of the band in terms of camera angles is fine. Moreover- Jamal’s ebullient gestures are a compensation in their own right.
DVD MENU- Individual track selection, Biography, Discography, Audio-only Play STEREO- 4.3. Format
(distributed by Musicvideodistributors )