Ahmad Jamal's historic appearances in Chicago during the early part of his career established him as a top-notch player easily rivaling Oscar Peterson. His virtuosity was clearly defined, well rendered, and appealed to a wide variety of listeners discovering jazz. Some 35 years later, Jamal and his trio returned to Chicago's Jazz Showcase, owned and operated by Joe Segal, then in the Blackstone Hotel, to record this set of standards and one original, the ultra-famous song "Poinciana" excluded. With veteran bassist John Heard and young drummer Yoron Israel, Jamal is in top-notch form, riffing off of melodies and ripping up these tunes that are not necessarily the best known of all American popular songs. Like Peterson, Jamal tends to quickly state the melody in respect, then extrapolates on it until the line is exhausted, making for a memorable listening experience. The thing is, you need to pay close attention, as his witty inventions go beyond the conventional, frequently merging into quotes of many other famous songs. A second and third listening all the way through reveals more and more of his true genius. Jamal's promise fairly lives up to Peterson's striving for excellence when you hear him dig into Clifford Brown's "Daahoud," playfully dashing off bop-strewn snippets at will of "It's Alright with Me" and "I'm Beginning to See the Light," among other familiar main strains. His take of the well-worn "All the Things You Are" opens politely, but doesn't stay that way for long, as he darts around the tuneful framework with animated abandon and many flourishes. Fresh, stabbing staccato chords refute his statement to the crowd that he's "getting old" on the obscure Irving Ashby number "Tater Pie" gone far into the bebop zone, and he bounces along for "Be My Love" or his lone original, the lengthy "Bellows," starting elegant and improvised, then moving to show off styled arpeggios. Being in Chicago, Jamal unavoidably delves into the deeper end of the blues during a refined "Blue Gardenia" but like Peterson or Bud Powell, also can't help turning up the wick and going faster. In sprightly waltz fashion, "Dance to the Lady" sports a tiny melody that Jamal stretches out, while his penchant to fill every measure and phrase to the brim transforms "Where Are You?" past inquiry, into discovery mode. The finale, "Lullaby of Birdland" hardly hints at that light swing song, as Jamal is more interested in expounding on the theme of "Manteca" which is in a completely different key and much more Afro-Cuban beat. The stoic Heard and impressionable Israel play right along with whatever Jamal dishes out spontaneously, and provide a strong foundation while honestly placed in a subservient role, but they are very talented and can easily keep up. This is one of the best and most consistently good recordings in the latter third of Jamal's career, and comes easily recommended for his fans or newbies with no hesitation.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos