“All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal” – high praise indeed from anyone but when it comes from an esteemed voice such as Miles Davis, you get an idea of how much a talent Ahmad Jamal is and the kind of influence he’s had on the Jazz world down the years.
Now in his 83rd year, Jamal continues to regularly tour the globe and release albums to critical acclaim. In support of last year’s Grammy nominated Blue Moon, Jamal on the Grand piano and his trio – double bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manuel Badrena – entertained a sold out Barbican on February 8th for what turned out to be an unforgettable night.
Those lucky enough to be in attendance witnessed a true master of his chosen Pianist and bandleader trades still at the peak of his powers some 50+ years after his magnum opus At the Pershing/But Not for Me live album. Jamal’s timing and phrasing throughout is a joy to behold. His almost psychic knowledge of where his piano fits into compositions is unparalleled. Of course it helps to have a faultless, well-drilled band at your disposal and a crystal clear PA to be heard through. Watching Jamal humbly point and direct each member individually at various stages and key changes is akin to witnessing a Jazz equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock at work on one of his many classic films.
The addition of former Weather Report percussionist Badrena was a particularly inspired decision. His range of sounds, including various hand drums, bird calls and bells as well as backing vocals, gave the performance a welcome eclectic and fun element that is usually missing from the standard jazz trio format. The rhythm section complement each other perfectly and create the foundation for Jamal to sprinkle his magic over. This was especially evident during “Autumn Rain,” when the ?uestlove-inspired beat was blended to perfection with the spellbinding and sometimes funky melodies of Jamal’s virtuoso playing.
Much of the set consisted of new material, skipping on old classics such as “Poinciana” – not that anyone was really complaining as the near two-hour set had the audience (young and old) in raptures and pleading for more. All band members were given ample time and space to shine as their solos were delivered in an exquisite yet understated fashion. This seamlessly led into the encore, which included the beautiful wistfulness of “I Remember Italy” and an up-tempo swinging jam to bring the night to a spectacular close.
As Jamal exited stage left to a prolonged ovation normally reserved for royalty, it was clear one and all had seen something truly special. If the quartet had decided to play through the night, many would have stayed to absorb it all without a second thought.
Visit ahmadjamal.net for upcoming tourdates.