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Khan Jamal: Percussion & Strings

Derek Taylor By

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Given the width and breadth of creative improvised music, it's sometimes easy for a musician to get lost in the shuffle, especially if their chosen instrument of expression is one of the more common in the music. Saxophonists in particular are occasional victims of the forced bouts of anonymity that may accompany such periods of congestion. But vibraphonists who move in these circles are few enough in number that they are rarely faced with such problems. This is one of the reasons why Khan Jamal's extended absence from recording is unusually troubling.

Jamal has long been one of the forerunners on his instrument. His albums on the Dutch Steeplechase label, first released in the late 70's are all examples of some of the most exploratory work done the vibraphone in a post-bop setting. Strangely he's been out of the recording loop for awhile and this date on the evergreen CIMP label marks his first recording as a leader in over eight years. As if to make up for sorely lost time Jamal brings a drive and vigor to the date that results in one of the most consistently enjoyable sessions the label has ever recorded. Given the depth and prolificacy of the CIMP catalog I realize this is a bold statement, but one listen to Jamal's group and their program of tunes and I'm willing to bet you'll agree with my assessment.

Even more extraordinary is that the supporting players Jamal has enlisted for the date are all virtual unknowns outside their native Philadelphia. With this session as a watermark their status is bound to change rapidly and decisively toward the side of celebrity. All of the tunes in the program are invested with a strong post-bop flavor that brings to mind Bobby Hutcherson's exploratative work for Blue Note in the 60's without being the least bit derivative. Listeners wary of the discordant interplay that sometimes accompanies free improvisation will be pleased by the harmonious interactions these players favor. The languid sonorities of "Whisper Sweet" are a sublime example of the kind of sensitive communication the group immerses itself in, but this isn't to suggest that there aren't a fair share of up-tempo burners either. Check out the propulsive syncopation of "Return From Exile" abetted by Vinson's mercuric cowbell for evidence of the group's more aggressive side. The closing reading of Monk's "Round About Midnight" featuring dueling vibes and marimba in a leisurely display of melodic invention is the perfect capstone.

A further factor in the disc's success comes with Crockett and Taylor's decision to mildly amplify their instruments. The sonic clarity of CIMP recordings sometimes comes at the price of muffled strings which can be quieter than percussion, particularly on lower end stereo systems like my own. The added volume afforded for cello and bass on this date brings their contributions to the fore in a manner that's been absence from other CIMP sessions. Fans of Jamal and the luminous sound of vibraphone in general should drop the loot for this one at their earliest convenience. If we're lucky this disc will mark a return for Jamal to regular recording schedule.

Track Listing: Professor Bill (Lewis)/ Whisper Sweet/ Sphere/ Blue Monk/ Six + Seven Equals Thirteen/ Another Kind of Blue/ Witch Doctor

Personnel: Khan Jamal- vibes, marimba; Ed Crockett- bass; Dylan Taylor- cello; Craig McIver- drums, marimba*; Pete Vinson- drums*, cowbell.

Title: Percussion & Strings | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: CIMP Records


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