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The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions (#246)Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set
Limited Edition: 5,000 copies
9 CDs - $149.00
These recordings are the reason why.
Tracing back the influence of pianist Ahmad Jamal through his more than 50 years of performing and recording is like trying to repack the explosive components of a fireworks display after it ignites, flares, expands - and flashes again from every cascading branch. His original concepts about melody, rhythm and dynamics were important precursors to the work of such pianists as Red Garland, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock. His use of extended vamps, his light touch, and his economy - with a strong devotion to playing the "spaces" - cleared a path for further innovations by Cedar Walton, Gil Evans, McCoy Tyner and many modalists who were listening to what Jamal was doing. Could modern performer Jacky Terrasson re-imagine a familiar song as brilliantly as he does if Ahmad Jamal had not done it so influentially?
And that's just the piano players. When you factor in such artists as John Coltrane, "Cannonball" Adderley, and Miles Davis - whose fifties bands frequently recorded lesser known standards Jamal played in strikingly similar arrangements - and add up all the generations of musicians exposed to their work, you start to see how the sky fills with flaming, colored light.
His recording as a piano trio leader on Argo, owned by Chicago's Chess recording label, began in 1956. And that's where our new retrospective begins on The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions 1956-62. The first definitive collection of his work from this seminal era of his career, it includes all the tunes for which Jamal became renowned, such as "Ahmad's Blues," "Poinciana," "But Not For Me," and "Billy Boy," a song so often re-done in Jamal's style that his version has almost become the new standard.
Plus, there is a delightful bonus of 23 tracks that have never appeared before on record, all approved for release by Ahmad himself and each a revelation. Our jam-packed nine-CD package, covering material originally released on 12 LPs, is also a textbook on how to use all the elements of a musical composition not just to entertain, but to invent, beguile, challenge yourself as a musician, and challenge the audience to listen.
Both Modern and Classic
Rehearing these records today is no passive experience. His performances have a quality that forces you to hang on every note. Nothing is ever predictable, and a listener can go from disc to disc with no danger of fatigue setting in. Even songs you are certain you know inside and out are transformed by his tempos, his rhythmic transfusions, or his playful avoidance of familiarity; he will take his time working into the melody, and just as that glow of comfortable recognition surrounds you, he'll break off unexpectedly, often before the line is complete. It has a tantalizing effect that is Jamal's alone. Always teasing, always defying expectations, and always playing what no one else has ever played, including himself. They are timeless recordings, as modern and classic today as when "Poinciana," in an era before separate jazz charts were tabulated, climbed to #3 on the Billboard 100 and remained on the top-sellers list for over two straight years.
Like all Mosaic box sets, the collection comes with our deluxe, full-size booklet. It includes discographical information, an extensive interview with Jamal by Kenny Washington, an essay on the sessions by Washington and many rare contemporary photographs. As for the music, all of Jamal's studio and live recordings on Argo from those years are here. In addition to the previously mentioned 23 bonus recordings - many from live dates - there are 113 other tracks to enjoy. The earliest feature Walter Perkins on drums before Fournier took over; there's a 1959 recording date that adds a 15-piece string section under the direction of Joe Kennedy; and a set one year later featuring Kennedy on violin and Ray Crawford on guitar. But the bulk of these sessions were Jamal, Crosby and Fournier on all those great standards, made even more exceptional by Jamal's knowing treatment of them.
When Crosby died in 1962, it put an end to any further adventures from this remarkable group, and at the same time made the music they created immortal. It's no wonder that critic Stanley Crouch put Jamal alongside an Olympus of keyboard gods when he compared his influence on musicians of his day to Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson, Ellington, Tatum, Basie, Monk, Horace Silver, and John Lewis in their respective eras. And no great surprise that Miles Davis once told no less an artist that Red Garland where to get his inspiration: "play like Jamal."
Read More About Ahmad Jamal:
Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates »
- Audio Quality
- Sample Session Notes
Our initial tape search for the complete Argo recordings of the Ahmad Jamal trio with Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier proved to be a mixed blessing. On one hand, there was a treasure trove of unissued material, which Ahmad would eventually approve for release. On the other hand, the original analog masters for five and a half of the original 11 albums in this collection were unlocatable. So we set out on a long search, scouring vaults in Japan and throughout Europe to find digital safeties that preserved the integrity of the original sessions. It took some time but we were able to round up all the material and put it in the hands of Malcom Addey who blended the disparate sources into a wonderful sounding set. One caveat: we never found a perfect source for the first album "Count 'Em 88" so you will experience some wow and flutter on the first 9 tracks of this set.
Photo Copyright © Protected
When we first started to research this project, we discivered that the Ahmad Jamal Trio was not only one of the most popular jazz groups of the late fifties and early sixties, but also one of the most under-photographed!
Chuck Stewart came up with a few gorgeous images of the trio at the Robert Herridge Theater CBS television show, but then we hit a wall. Ahamd came to the rescue by delving into his personal archives. He unearthed not only photographs of the trio, but also real rarities like the interior of his Alhambra Club and shots of him at age 11 with his school orchestra.
(B) Jamal At The Pershing - January 16 & 17, 1958
One of the reasons for the success of the first Pershing album is its pacing. Credit for this goes to Ahmad who edited, picked all the tunes and sequenced the album. Few people know that keys, moods and tempos have an enormous effect on how you listen. The music on this recording flowed nicely from one track to the next. There's a lot happening beneath the surface musically. In 1958, this record turned the industry on its ear and made Ahmad a star. Within a month of its release, it had already sold 450,000 copies. It popularized the trio format. Record companies were all starting to jump on the bandwagon recording trios such as The Three Sounds, Hampton Hawes, Les McCann and many others. At Argo, it paved the way for a then relatively unknown pianist by the name of Ramsey Lewis to catch a break. He would ultimately score a couple of big live hits for the label with his trio a few years later.
This record also popularized the concept of recording live from a club, capturing both the music and the audience experience. Two years after the success of this recording, the record execs at Argo discovered the extra material from the club and persuaded Ahmad to take another listen to it. Ahmad has never been one for looking back, but after repeated listening, gave permission for a volume two. But Not For Me kicks of this classic live session with another business man's bounce tempo. This was one of the tunes that Ahmad had originally done on the Parrot label. The arrangement is basically the same, but new and improved. One of the things that makes this performance so special is Israel Crosby's two-bar solo breaks in the melody and at the end of the bridge. He sounds like he's having a conversation with Ahmad. His choice of notes during Ahmad's solo is superb.
Ahmad has really been honing his less-is-more approach. A case in point is the way he purposely leaves out key notes of the melody in the A section. He starts his solo out with a mesmerizing six-note phrase (G, A, C, D, E flat, E) repeated in the upper register of the piano hardly playing any chords with his left. This creates a musical suspense, making one wonder where's he going with this? The only clue that he gives you is that he's at the end of the chorus with a hint of the melody. If that's not enough, he slips into the key of F major for the next chorus. Ahmad weaves in and out of the melody even quoting a few bars of "Man With A Horn." His less is more approach really goes into effect after bar eleven of the last A section of the performance where there's no melody and sparse piano until the dramatic ending. You practically need a score card to keep up with everything that's happening, yet they make it sound so easy and natural.
Surrey With the Fringe On Top is another arrangement that started with The Three Strings. This version is quite a bit faster than the original on Epic. The form of this tune is AABA. Jamal starts out playing the melody from the second A section and goes to the bridge. The melody is stated in his trademark upper register of the piano without any chords. He never plays the chord changes for the A sections, allowing the opportunity to hear Israel's incredible walking bass lines. Great bassists such as Percy Heath, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter and Peter Washington were all affected by Israel. Vernel really takes charge with brushes here. It's very hard to play brushes at any tempo, but at this clip nearly impossible. The success of this track has a lot to do with this fantastic rhythm team. Without them it wouldn't have been as effective. Ahmad chooses to follow the AABA form, but scraps the original chord changes of the A sections in order to improvise in F. He reverts back to the tune's chord structure for the bridge. Check out the slick half time ending a la Chick Webb. Ahmad mentioned in the interview that he broke a lot of rules. This arrangement is a great example of that, but he did it with much thought and taste.
Ahmad's tender rendition of Moonlight In Vermont puts you right there at twilight time. Israel's two-note bass ostinato line sets the calm mood. Ahmad's ballad interpretations belied his age. This was only the beginning. As he matured, his ballad playing would get deeper and deeper. The arrangement gets a nice lift in the bridge when the trio shifts into a waltz.
CUSTOMER REVIEWSClick here to write a review
As a musician myself, I believe this set to be an important piece of Jazz history. Not only because of Ahmad's beautiful approach to the music but, the wonderful support form his sidemen.
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