Friday, June 6, 2008

Ahmad Jamal Descends on Oakland Tonight, Plays Yoshi's San Francisco This Weekend

Jazz Standard-Bearer Plays with Economy, but Still Kills

By Rachel Swan
Fri, Jun 6, 2008 at 3:14 PM

A lot of Ahmad Jamal's appeal lies in his use of blank space between notes — he plays in a style that's closer to Monk, or some of the old stride players, than to most of his contemporaries: frequent glissandos; rickety two-handed runs; a left handed comp rhythm that's like a kick drum beat, played on one chord. Jamal must plot out his solos from a drummer's perspective, because the phrasing sounds like it's based on a groove, rather than melodic or harmonic ideas. That actually doesn't matter because, as Jamal proved last night at Oakland Yoshi's — where he took the stage alongside bassist James Cammack, drummer Idris Muhammad, and percussionist Manolo Badrena — he's a phenomenal performer.

A lot of Ahmad Jamal's appeal lies in his use of blank space between notes — he plays in a style that's closer to Monk, or some of the old stride players, than to most of his contemporaries: frequent glissandos; rickety two-handed runs; a left handed comp rhythm that's like a kick drum beat, played on one chord. Jamal must plot out his solos from a drummer's perspective, because the phrasing sounds like it's based on a groove, rather than melodic or harmonic ideas. That actually doesn't matter because, as Jamal proved last night at Oakland Yoshi's — where he took the stage alongside bassist James Cammack, drummer James Johnson, and percussionist Manolo Badrena — he's a phenomenal performer.

The rhythm section was killing: Johnson is a truly sensitive drummer, and the scowl he wore for most of the night showed how intently he was listening to the other players. Cammack, whose bass solos twice elicited cheers (which is rare, even for the 10 p.m. crowd at Yoshi's), was probably the best instrumentalist in the band. Badrena looked a bit like an interloper with his strange haircut (part Mohawk, part chia pet) and large battery of instruments, but he never quite stole the show. Meanwhile, Jamal was a spectacular bandleader, conducting from his seat, pointing at band members individually, and even turning around to watch one of Badrena's solos with his arms folded across his chest. He played a couple ballads with just piano and bass, trading lines with Cammack that turned into an intricate pas de deux. Otherwise, the night mostly consisted of album cuts from his new joint It's Magic, including a Horace Silver tribute ("Silver") with a Latin rhythm and bass line that repeated over several bars, almost like a hip-hop loop. He also played album opener "Dynamo" — another Afro-Latin joint — and a paean to his home town called "Pittsburg," which kicked off with a quote from "Salt Peanuts."

The solos were generally short — only a few bars each — and clean, based less on showing off chops than really interpreting the pieces and interacting with the other players. Such is Jamal's specialty: He's the type of pianist who can play a triplet figure over and over, and make it sound like he's saying something different each time. Instead of doing fancy turnarounds, he's reach the end of a section and bang out a single chord, almost like the scratching sound of a DJ fading a record into another record. He showed exceptional control, issuing commands from the bandstand and at one point raising his hands to clap right in the middle of a bridge. Jamal is no show-off. He would count off a new piece without waiting for the applause to die down; he spoke little between songs, other than naming the title; upon getting a standing ovation he grinned politely, told everyone it had been "a real pleasure," and sauntered off stage. Like a storyteller with a gift for evocative language, Jamal has an arresting stage presence, but he always speaks with economy. He still manhandles the audience just fine. Ahmad Jamal's run continues at Yoshi's San Francisco Saturday and Sunday.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Author Archives

© 2016 East Bay Express    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation