Ahmad Jamal :: 05.21.09 :: The Blue Note :: New York, NY
Listening to Jamal bang away at his piano it was clear that his style and writing has evolved tremendously in relation to his earlier recordings, though hints of his younger work could still be heard in the virtuoso’s playing. “Fitnah,” from Jamal’s latest release It’s Magic, started us off. Jamal’s cleverly varied use of dynamics created a constant flux in the energy level. Plodding crescendos brusquely changed direction, making the tune like an amusement park ride. Jamal quickly proved that the ravages of old age had not gotten the best of him as his still nimble hands skillfully danced about the piano keys. Jamal’s left hand hammered out long, resonating harmonies that strung together in the most ingenious of ways, while his right hand delicately danced through highly emotional melodies. His treatment of harmony has been one of the most influential aspects of Jamal’s writing and playing. The way he takes melodic lines in tandem with their harmonic accompaniment and effortlessly transposes them to foreign keys makes you feel like he’s rapidly transporting you from one dimension to another.
James Cammack (contrabass) took his first solo of the evening during “Acorn.” With a serene look on his face, Cammack plucked away at his instrument, lush tones subsequently filling the air. A long empty space left by the end of Cammack’s solo was swiftly filled by Jamal’s piano. One of Jamal’s most innovative contributions to the jazz world is his use of space. When Jamal plays you don’t just hear when he’s playing but you also hear when he’s not. The silence between notes becomes as prominent as the notes themselves. And as seemingly endless moments of anxious quiet swirled conspicuously about the room, the notes that sparsely trickled out of Jamal’s piano were devastatingly affective. Linking sections of hurried yet tight and energetic sections in “Mellowdrama” was tranquil stagnation; Jamal let deep notes resonate endlessly while seconds of space that felt like an eternity was intermittently filled with fragments of melodies past. Moving aside the dangling chord of his microphone, Jamal then reached for the brittle notes at the right-most part of his piano – so delicate yet so poignant are those highest notes of a piano.
As skillful as his youthful days many, many years ago, Ahmad Jamal continues to write and play music as transcendently as ever. One gets few opportunities in a lifetime to witness such a legendary figure at work, and hopefully it will not be the last such opportunity, since as long as his fingers will move it can be safely said that Ahmad Jamal will be sharing his timeless gift with the world for years to come.
Ahmad Jamal tour dates available here.
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