Monday, September 19, 2011

AHMAD JAMAL AT HILL AUDITORIUM

Ahmad Jamal
Jazz piano player Ahmad Jamal opened the University Musical Society 18th Annual Jazz Series Saturday evening at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor Michigan. Jamal set the bar high for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and the Charles Llyod Quartet, acts scheduled this season. Jamal, 81, performed songs from his albums Quiet Time, It’s Magic, Awakening and Poinciana.

Drummer Herlin Riley, bass player James Cammack, percussion player Manolo Badrena walked on stage first, and positioned themselves behind their instruments. Then Jamal strolled on the stage to rousing applause befitting a jazz master.

Jamal started the 75 minute set with Appreciation. Then he cruised into After Math and After Jalc. Jamal is an interactive bandleader. He doesn’t just set at the piano hammering away. He used hand signals like a third base coach, signaling to his band mates to solo,  to speed up the tempo, and to settle down.

When Badrena soloed on After Jalc, Jamal stood in front of him, and egged him on. When Riley was wailing  and one of his drumstick flew out his hand, Jamal fetched the drumstick., and he handed Riley it like a  high school principal hands an honor student a diploma.  

I saw Riley last at Orchestra Hall many years ago with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet. It slipped my mind what a freewheeling, and animated drummer Riley is. Cammack is an awesome bass player. All night long, he walked the upright bass like a hot date. Jamal's guys earned their paycheck. Jamal was most valuable player.

Jamal still have that light and buttery soft touch. And the space he leaves between notes  is so wide a trucker could park his big rig comfortably. Jamal closed the set with his classic Poinciana. After that the audience gave him a length ovation. They didn't settled down until Jamal, Cammack,  Riley and Badrena agreed to an encore.   to an encore.
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