|Ahmad Jamal. Photo credit: Paul Wood|
(Royal Festival Hall, January 27th 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney. Drawing below by Geoffrey Winston)
Where do you go for the 'Sense of an Ending'? For the Eng. Lit tribe, it'll be Frank Kermode; the book club set will succumb to the fey ambiguities of Julian Barnes. But in music you don't just get the sense of the endings, they're real; and there is no one who delivers them with quite the definitive coup de grâce, every time, like Pittsburgh-born jazz piano hero Ahmad Jamal.
The 83-year old tends to end pieces with his hands spread at least three octaves apart, for a single, percussive, incontrovertible staccato chord. It is as if he has said what needs to be said, and he can expect his word to stand. For the other members of the band, the semaphore couldn't be clearer: they all land perfectly on exactly the same dime every time. In one case last night he was already standing to play that final 'envoi'. In another he just sat patiently arms folded. Waited. Kapow.
All that, however, is really just one fine detail. What Jamal's quartet delivered throughout a 100-minute single set (it felt a good deal shorter) was a sense of constant forward propulsion, of groove, of infectious swing, of contrasts in sound and style. Jamal drops in on the standards repertoire and caresses it. His My Foolish Heart was as tender as Bill Evans. Sometimes he hints at the contours of tunes, in a manner similar to that other youthful octogenarian Martial Solal. Then you get a whole section where the band will inhabit an insistent groove, like the irresistible 'forward son clave' pattern which stayed throughout Silver, a tune written for Horace Silver.
|Ahmad Jamal Quartet|
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. All Rights Reserved
Which, after a performance as totally persuasive as this one, was understandable.