Recording Date: 1969
All Music Guide
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Earl Hines, the great pianist whose style was as influential in the formation of basic jazz piano as the trumpet style of Louis Armstrong was to that instrument, made a record once which he titled "57 Varieties." It could have been a pun on the advertising slogan and Earl's last name or it could also be, as I believe it was, a statement about jazz itself.
The variety of jazz is infinite, the variety of styles and musical personalities is as varied as the numbers of men (and women, too) who play the music and the lives they have led. It can be fast or slow, or loud or soft, or hard or tender, loving or angry. Some jazz piano can be packed so full of notes that it sounds like a speeded up tape.
Ahmad Jamal deals in space and in melody and his use of space is so artful that it enables the melody of the original line and the improvisations and embellishments of the leading voice to grow together, to evolve organically, to swell and to retreat as the pulse of the music, the inner pulse that guides the creative art itself, dictates.
Since he first emerged with his trio, Ahmad Jamal has indicated that his path was the path of quiet intensity, the path of melody so phrased that the rhythm and the space built together into a strong driving force that achieved power without volume and tension without distortion.
Jamal's music is tension and release, the music of life. His musicians have grown with him in the same way that his music grows under his fingers as he plays it. Jamil Sulieman, his bassist, for instance, has grown slowly and peacefully into a magnificent soloist and a sturdy supporter of the music in which he is involved. The same has been true of the drummer, Frank Cant.
But the Jamal music, whether it be his own compositions or his treatments of the melodies of others, is a constantly growing and changing thing but with never a hint of the kind of urgency implied in some music.
I think that it is this quality which makes it so satisfying. Listening to Jamal's albums such as this one, or sitting in a club while he plays, can be a most magnificent head trip through an infinitely diverse and changing musical terrain.
Some music grabs you and drives everything else from your mind. Ahmad Jamal's performances seduce you, softly engage your whole attention, and lure you into the groove he is travelling-without your being aware, really, that it is happening until it HAS happened.
He seems to be able to do this with the music he records on location and in the studio as well, and this is not a common virtue. I think it has to do somehow with his own involvement with the piano. Certainly he reacts to and becomes involved with an audience; all performing artists do. But Jamal is also involved in some inner dialogue with the piano and thus sets up an emotional third rail there to which, as outsiders, we can attach ourselves and ride along with him.
Music which can serve several functions I find is music that has a deeper satisfaction. Ahmad Jamal can be heard on many different levels from the purely superficial one of the prettiness and the swinging quality of the sounds on through to the opening-up of the doors of perception that is the ultimate of all creative effort.
"Poinciana" is a song that brought Ahmad Jamal to the attention of a lot of people outside of the jazz world. His versions of it have been one of the most widely appreciated works of jazz pianists and this new one, from which the title of the album stems, is as interesting and as innovative as his first.
Over the years I have grown to enjoy the music of Ahmad Jamal more and more. I think that his music provides one the opportunity to grow into it as a listener because the artist himself is so open that there is room for all.
The compositions on this album, ranging from standards to originals, were recorded at the Top of the Village Gate in New York and in the studio. Both contexts were used by Ahmad Jamal to start the kind of musical ripples that go out in increasing waves to have unpredictable effects wherever they touch. His music is of that order.
Ralph J. Gleason, Contributing Editor, Jazz & Pop; Columnist, San Francisco Chronicle