Ahmad Jamal Trio: The Complete 1961 Alhambra Performances /Ahmad Jamal’s Alhambra

The pianist's dynamic style, combining minimalism and light touch with chord clusters and thunderous explosions, is captured on CD and LP

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Recorded at Jamal’s short-lived Alhambra club and originally issued as Ahmad Jamal’s Alhambra (Argo 985) and All Of You (Argo 691), the double-CD The Complete has four extra tunes from the same session plus other material.

After a few years with mainly a piano, guitar and bass trio, Jamal achieved attention and acclaim (not least from Miles Davis) in the late 50s with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier. Their 1958 album At The Pershing showed how good the trio was in live performance, and this is evident here.

With trademark changes of rhythm and tempo, Jamal’s unpredictability is demonstrated through his almost minimalist economy and lightness of touch before launching into chord clusters and sudden thunderous and dynamic explosions. With a right hand that alternates between quick, precise single line runs and spaced intervals, he creates momentum, tension and anticipation. Crosby and Fournier contribute an array of responsive backdrops over which the pianist’s characteristic playing is heard.

As is often the case in live performances, occasional references to other tunes are made, though Jamal never belabours the point, quickly augmenting his playing as he develops his stream of improvisation, moving from one idea to the next: there are Ellington quotes (I Got It Bad and In A Mellow Tone) towards the end of You Go To My Head and Ray Bryant’s Cubano Chant on Autumn Leaves; Night Train crosses the points on Sweet And Lovely and Gillespie and Parker get a Hot House nod on What Is This Thing Called Love.

Of the earlier 1958 studio recordings added here, Secret Love and Taking A Chance On Love were released as a single (Argo 5317) as was Soft Winds, with the hugely successful Poinciana (Argo 5306). The rarely performed Aki And Ukthay (subtitled Brother And Sister) was previously only issued on Epic in 1952. There are three versions of We Kiss In A Shadow – two from the live recording, the third in studio, and all intriguingly different.

For those who prefer vinyl, or just a copy of the Alhambra album, Waxtime In Color’s release is a limited-edition 180 gram coloured disc. It’s the original single album plus Angel Eyes and You’re Blasé (taken from the All Of You album). The sound quality is okay, although there’s more presence and clearer piano on my 1961 Pye Jazz (NJL38) copy. There’s always something reassuringly appealing in handling a record sleeve, but if you want more for your money in these inflationary times the CD offers it.

Discography

The Complete 1961 Alhambra Performances

CD1: We Kiss In A Shadow; Sweet And Lovely; The Party’s Over; Love For Sale; Snow Fall; Broadway; Willow Weep For Me; Autumn Leaves; Isn’t It Romantic; The Breeze And I; Time On My Hands; Angel Eyes; You Go To My Head; Star Eyes; All Of You. (74.34)
CD2: You’re Blasé; What Is This Thing Called Love; Poinciana; We Kiss In A Shadow #2; Stella By Starlight; The Lady Is A Tramp; I’m Old Fashioned; We Kiss In A Shadow (studio version); Chi-Town; Secret Love; Taking A Chance On Love; Cheek To Cheek; It’s You Or No One; Soft Winds; Love; Aki And Ukthay; Love For Sale; That’s All (77.15)
Jamal (p); Israel Crosby (b); Vernel Fournier (d). CD1, CD2 tks 1-6: Alhambra, Chicago, 22 June 1961. CD2 tks 7-9: Chicago, 5 June 1961. CD2 tks 10-18: Chicago, 30 June 1958.
American Jazz Classics 99154

Ahmad Jamal’s Alhambra
We Kiss In A Shadow; Sweet And Lovely; The Party’s Over; Love For Sale; Snow Fall; Angel Eyes; Broadway; Willow Weep For Me; Autumn Leaves; Isn’t It Romantic; The Breeze And I; You’re Blasé (49.39)
Personnel as above, same date.
Waxtime In Color 950736