Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights – Live At The Penthouse 1965-1966

Second volume of Jamal in Seattle underlines the pianist's ability to inject new, unimagined and entrancing life into the standard repertoire


This is the second volume of previously unissued Jamal trio performances from Jazz Detective, in this case from 1965-66 (see review of the first volume). It comprises two LPs of live club performances, and we are promised that a third volume from the late 1960s will follow.

The first LP begins with a stop-start, tempo-changing version of I Didn’t Know What Time It Was. After a lengthy preliminary, bassist Nasser sets up the leader for a series of exceptionally light, chime-like improvised piano lines. In fact, throughout these discs Jamal’s uptempo romps are as light as a feather but his invention at the keyboard never flags.

The next three selections are charts by Bricusse and Newley. A flourish of Jamal chords introduces Who Can I Turn To. Ahmad’s opening solo is delicate, in ballad tempo, with flowing accompaniment from bass and drums. Some out-of-tempo lines are added with, overall, a fresh and unusual treatment of this familiar standard.

Two tracks on the second LP feature Jamal’s original drummer Vernel Fournier, perhaps subbing for the regular player on one night. With Jamal and with Nasser on bass, the three play two tracks that are a strong reminder of the earlier trio. Each piece played is given a studied performance highlighting the strength of the composition. The improvised solos by Jamal and Nasser are always close to the melody but fresh and original in a straightahead fashion. Like Someone In Love sounds very much like vintage Jamal, an out-of-tempo piano introduction followed by a gently pulsing trio reading, full of invention. This one could easily have come from 1958.

Regarding visits to the past, Jamal rarely indulged – as these tracks prove. But when he did, he did it in style. A 1966 version of Poinciana, his best-selling title, is included here. Drummer Frank Gant retains the Fournier drum pattern as Jamal searches out fresh new lines to enhance the song.

The material is issued on high-quality vinyl and the sound restoration is particularly good considering the original tapes were not that brilliant. They are limited edition LPs with an informative booklet included. Two CD sets are also available.

LP1: (1) I Didn’t Know What Time It Was; Who Can I Turn To: My First Love Song; Feeling Good (40.28)
LP2: (2) Concern; Like Someone In Love; Invitation; Poinciana; Whisper Not (38.12)
(1) Jamal (p) Jamil Nasser (b); Chuck Lampkin (d). Seattle, 25 March 1965.
(2) Jamal (p); Nasser (b); Vernel Fournier or Frank Gant (d). Seattle, 28 October 1965 & 22 September 1966.
Jazz Detective DDJD-002