Ahmad Jamal Trio:
Ahmad Jamal (piano), James Cammick (bass) & Idris Muhammed (drums)
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: 6 May, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Ahmad Jamal arrives on stage to a roar of applause appropriate for a jazz legend. This, after all, is the man who counted Miles Davis among the admirers of his intense and iconoclastic pianism, and whose more recent fans include Diana Krall and Jamie Cullum. After decades at the margins of jazz, an extended Indian summer has brought critical and public acclaim, and an ongoing series of live and studio albums for the French Dreyfus label.
Jamal’s current trio is a serious and long-standing proposition. Drummer Idris Muhammed, in sunglasses as red as his shoes, lays down fat, rolling beats; on bass, James Cammick vaults effortlessly across the range of his instrument, from limpid tenor solos to punchy walking lines. Jamal is the mastermind in charge of it all, directing with a remarkable vocabulary of gestures, ranging from clanging volleys of chords to Art Tatum-like spiralling scalar fills. He allows Monk-ish spaces around his phrases, placing his interjections with care and exclaiming with satisfaction.
Muhammed and Cammick follow him with turn-on-a-dime accuracy, moving from flat-out jam to gossamer lightness without skipping a beat. Jamal’s lyrical side is on display in “But Not For Me” and his signature “Poinciana”, whereas originals “In Search Of” and “Gyroscope” show the band can swing at speed. And yet, at a basic level, the music didn’t enthral me. I was clearly in a minority in this respect, so perhaps the failing was mine, but there seemed to be something missing from the performance that prevented it from taking wing. Perhaps it was fault of the dismal, tinny sound, or Jamal’s insistence on finishing every single tune with the same perfect-fifth flourish; perhaps it was just a mid-tour off-night. Whatever it was, I left the Barbican feeling oddly underwhelmed, wondering what I’d missed.