December 1998

Ahmad Jamal
Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961
Chess Records

Jamal's 2 CD album has, among other material, the stuff he cut at the Persing Lounge in 1958, including "Poinciana" and "Music! Music! Music!" Here, as on all other tracks, he's backed by bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier. It was then that Miles Davis was singing Jamal's praises, talking about how Ahmad's use of "space," i.e. rests, had influenced him.

Though he had a lighter touch, Jamal was influenced by Erroll Garner. In turn Jamal influenced Red Garland (Miles probably encouraged Red to listen to Ahmad) and through Garland a host of other pianists. It's possible he even had an impact on Bill Evans' concept. Originally a busy improviser, Evans opened up his solos with rests to allow Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian to be heard in his trio, as Jamal had done for Crosby and Fournier.

Jamal's playing has great subtlety and dynamic variety. He brings the entire keyboard into play, contrasting registers nicely and varying the density of his work quite a bit by employing both silence and many-note runs. He doesn't emphasize songlike lines like, say, Hank Jones, but paints with musical colors and textures.

Originally published in December 1998
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