Ahmad Jamal’s SATURDAY NIGHT reviewed by Stanley Fefferman


Ahmad Jamal. SATURDAY MORNING. La Buissonne Studio Sessions. Jazz Village.

It has been about a year since the release of Blue Moon, Amad Jamal’s tribute to classic American cinema and Broadway featuring the bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manolo Badrena.

Of the man’s piano stylings on that album I wrote, “Ahmad Jamal reaches here, and he reaches there, fingering along the melodic line shaping it like a sailor braiding a chain of knots all of different shapes, the knots alive and wriggling like tattooed serpents, pets of the mysterious queen of dreams….”

Saturday Morning mercifully has the same personnel doing this time mostly tunes by the man himself plus a few tributes and standards, so the tracks are held by a common gravity field.

The first track, Back to the Future, is spacey percussive piano chords with a plummy Veal baseline backing it. The bass comes forward, the piano whips up a foam of fast runs flinging off a few quotes, “Night in Tunisia” among them.

“I’ll Always be With You,” goes the other way into lyrical slow-dancing. Cool percussive chord progressions are strung along a florid line á la Garner or Tatum. Among the variations are lyrical, sweet song-sequences in the manner of Teddy Wilson and some oddball dissonances that seem to be Jamal’s own subtle discoveries.

That’s the formula: percussive chords, foaming runs, sweet singing and oddball dissonances. And one more thing that comes out on the 10 minute title track—an ostinato rhythmic phrase that inflects both the piano’s melodic line and the rhythm section, giving the entire album an almost hypnotic sense of reassurance that everything is alright.

Behind that, the rhythm section works like Caribbean clockwork: Herlin Riley’s drum kit splashes, clicks and ticks; Manolo Badrena’s fingers on skins pops and tocks, and the chime of Reginald Veal’s basslines hold down the bottom times and gets off a splendid solo in “I’m in the Mood for Love.”

Overall, the music made here is masterfully tender and sly. If the element of repetition in the stylings doesn’t become a bore, as I’ve said before, “You’ll wear this record out before you get everything in it.”

Tracks: Back To The Future; I’ll Always Be With You; Saturday Morning; Edith’s Cake; The Line; I’m In The Mood For Love; Firefly; Silver; I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good; One; Saturday Morning (Reprise).

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