Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights – Live At The Penthouse 1963-1964 

Previously unreleased radio tapes of the mercurial pianist and his freewheeling trio in Seattle are collected on two 180g LPs

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Jamal began playing professionally at age 14 and worked steadily for years before becoming an overnight sensation in 1958. That was when his regular gig in Chicago was recorded as At The Pershing: But Not For Me. It was the magic of his playing and arrangements on that album that caught the jazz community unawares. Trios just didn’t sound like that. He could play ultra-fast and still come up with inventive, improvised sections, play slowly and gently with delicate notes and all the time he was fully integrated with his bass player and drummer.

His idea of a fully functional, integrated piano, bass and drum trio must have been a source of inspiration to Bill Evans who also came up with his own variation of full integration rather than piano soloist with bass and drum support.

There is more Jamal magic on this two-LP set of previously unreleased material from Jamal’s residencies at the Penthouse Jazz Club in Seattle in 1963-64. It’s not quite in the same league as the original trio with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier perhaps, but working along the same lines.

The set begins with percussive chords on Johnny One Note, with Richard Evans on bass and Chuck Lampkin at the drums. Ahmad varies his approach with gentle, chime-like lines, spelling out the melody, and provides lightning runs along the keyboard as the two rhythm players shadow him faithfully and add their own fills and counter lines. It comes out as an original reading of a familiar theme. Lampkin echoes the melody with thrusting stickwork in his solos.

Jamal begins his Minor Adjustments solo as if he is playing a Bach prelude. Soon the whole trio is swinging smoothly but effortlessly. He plays a bop-style version of Johnny Hodges’ Squatty Roo. Once again, bass and drums contribute almost equally to the final result. Jamal’s lightness of touch on the uptempo sections is impressive. The music sounds so effortless that you wonder how difficult it really was to achieve that effect.

There is plenty of variety in all these pieces over a two-LP recital. Tangerine on LP2 glides along as a straight swinger. Side 2 has Lampkin still on board, but the bass lines are provided by Jamil Nasser who comes across as a virtuoso on these tracks. Minor Moods is smoothly hypnotic, as it is played partly out of tempo. The second LP ends with But Not For Me where Ahmad teases with the same tempo, same style as his classic 1958 original. But he adds so much more to the improvised sections that you soon realise you are hearing a totally new variation.

These tracks were discovered by Zev Feldman, who has been building a career from finding unissued jazz gems. They come from radio tapes made at the Penthouse club over several years of residencies. Feldman now has his own record company called, appropriately, Jazz Detective.

Discography
LP1: (1) Johnny One Note; Minor Adjustments; All Of You; Squatty Roo (34.14)
LP2: (2) Bogota; Lollypops And Roses; Tangerine; Keep On Keeping On; Minor Moods; But Not For Me (56.18)
(1) Jamal (p); Richard Evans (b); Chuck Lampkin (d). Seattle, 20 June 1963.
(2) Ahmad Jamal (p); Jamil Nasser (b); Chuck Lampkin (d). Seattle, 2 April 1964.
Jazz Detective DDJ D-001