Ahmad Hassan Muhammad isn't a big name in jazzyet. The Cincinnati-born pianist self-produced and released hist first record, Fly
, in October 2010, and while the disc is very much a first effort, it holds surprise, pleasure and promise often unheard in second or third releases by others in the jazz scene today.
Everything about the disc's opener, "Star Child"a piano intro that stretches like a rubber band, the subtle entry of the bass and drums, the crescendo of energy and emotionis perfectly placed and flawlessly executed, and the space left by drummer Phil McGowan and bassist Adam Frederick is amazing. This is a tune filled with melodies, and with surprises. Like every good piece of music, this tune is like a housewinding stairways, unexpected corners, room-after-room.
"Go There," a ballad waltz, keeps the disc's initial momentum going, while "Fly," with Frederick's masterful playing, establishes a sense of connection through out the rest of the album, with each track adapting and continuing the musical intent of the tune that came before.
"4 A.M." begins beautifully as a ballad, but really comes into its own with a J-Dilla- esque R&B-tinged groove. Frederick is the quiet star of this record, and his contribution here is astounding; his refusal to abandon his soul- bass line, when the ballad feel returns, is especially effective.
"Metropolitan Avenue" is when Muhammad slides into the driver's seat. With the groove from McGowan and Frederick staying solid as a rock, Muhammad has free reign to stretch and delay a beautiful progression of chords. These structures unfold, opening like night-blooming flowers, with the same forward motion that has unified the record's best tracks. McGowan and Frederick know when to keep a good thing going, and don't switch things up too often. This is great late night driving music right here: dark highways, dashboard lights and the stereo on.
The melody line and chord progression of the album closer, "Alabama," are so tasty it hurts. The tune drifts in and out of a set tempo, becoming a kind of rumination on the tunes and sounds that preceded it. This is where the pianist's influences really shine through, but not distractingly so. There are hints of Brad Mehldau
, Aaron Goldberg
, Aaron Parks
and Robert Glasper
, but Muhammad's voice runs through it all. "Alabama" is a summation of his playing, bringing influences, grooves, ideas, and melodies together in a perfect combination.
Despite the disc's flawsthe reading of "Anthropology," the only non- original on the program, seems self-conscious and stiff; while the overall mastering sounds a little deadthis is a trio that hold promise, and Fly
is a picture of Muhammad as a rising star, before the rise.