2022 marks the ninety-second year of pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal. An NEA Jazz Master and Grammy winner, in 2007 he was designated a Kennedy Center honoree as a Living Jazz Legend. His first release was The Three Strings (Epic, 1951) and, throughout that decade, he recorded a dozen albums, all in a piano trio format. Of Jamal's approximately seventy recordings, he has employed orchestras, choirs, and larger ensembles but his catalog includes dozens of trio releases. His groundbreaking At the Pershing: But Not for Me (Argo, 1958) remained on the charts for two years and brought admiration from everyday jazz fans and luminaries such as Miles Davis. Live at Pershing made Jamal a star, albeit one that often appeared at a fixed point in the cosmos, indifferent to the rotation of the Earth. On the strength of his first live recording's broad appeal, Jamal maintained a healthy following through a subsequent series of innocuous releases. The new label, Jazz Detective, offers listeners Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse, a double-LP spanning 1963 to 1966 performances. The collection effectively establishes that the live Jamal has a more significant musical presence.
Jamal has been a creature of habit, playing with the same musicians for many years and often adhering to a repertoire dominated by standards. However, he has imprinted his unique style of playing even on the most worn-out pieces. Emerald City Nights finds the young Jamal at the peak of his inventiveness in these two volumes of live performances at the Seattle venue. His classically-infused, hard bop "Johnny One Note" shows him to be anything but stuck on a singular approach. On "Minor Adjustments" and "Bogota" Jamal's fluctuating and weighty playing, combined with Mach 1 speed and European touches, are thoroughly invigorating. He displays his most inventive stylings on "Tangerine" and the mid-tempo "Minor Moods." Throughout Emerald City Nights, Jamal has solid support from bassists Richard Evans and Jamil Sulieman Nasser and drummers Chuck Lampkin, Vernel Fournier, and Frank Gant.
The hyperbolic jazz advocate Stanley Crouch once asked if Sonny Rollins was "washed up or simply studio averse." It was an extreme assumption but the premise is valid and it is fair to ponder whether Ahmad Jamal was less ambitious off-stage. His studio recordings demonstrated little growth in technique across five decades of music. But Jamal's live recordings show a different side of the pianist and that has never been more clearly heard than on Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse. The limited edition double-LP will be issued in November 2022, followed by a two-CD set and digital release in December 2022. A third volume is expected in the future.
Side A: Johnny One Note; Minor Adjustments. Side B: All of You; Squatty Roo. Side C: Bogota; Lollipops & Roses; Tangerine. Side D: Keep On Keepin On; Minor Moods; But Not for Me.
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