Ahmad Jamal with the Assai Quartet Cat.# RR0042

"Ahmad Jamal with the Assai Quartet (Roesch Records) is another interesting addition to Jamal's discography. It features five tracks of stately, swinging music with string quartet, four lovely solo improvisations, and one trio tune with bassist Ephrium Wolfolk and drummer Arti Dixson. The recording reveals a bit of what Jamal means when he says, Count Basie didn't affect me pianistically [as is often asserted], he affected me orchestrally." Larry Blumenfeld copyright JAZZIZ Magazine Aug 1998 (www.jazziz.com)

"The sound of Jamal's piano has been distinguishable by music lovers for five decades. His individualistic and ritualistic approach to time and rhythm have been his trademark since he first achieved wide recognition with "Poinciana" from his live album at the Pershing Lounge in Chicago in 1958. The trio has been his forte for most of his career, yet he has diverted often to break new ground, as he does on this release. With the trio intact as the main element, Jamal plays his signature style of drone like left and titillating right hand magic in conjunction with a string quartet that adds a dynamic aura to the performance. Jamal is always the focal point, running up and down the keyboard while the lower end is perpetuated in an attempt to hypnotize. When the strings enter over the trio, they temporarily wrest the compositions from his control and turn them into quasi-classical movements of short duration. Jamal then reassumes command with a seamless exit from the ensemble back to his trio format. This portion of the program ends with each member of the string quartet being featured individually. The marriage of Jamal and the string quartet is a well-made match.

The balance of the program is comprised of an extended solo by Jamal in four parts and a final quartet selection featuring one Assai member. Jamal is in his typical contemplative and meditative mood on the solo segments, brooding over the piano as the denseness of his playing resonates through the air. The closing number is a delicately constructed and beautiful ballad combining the lyrical playing of Lefevre on viola with the trio. The entire album is masterfully played by Jamal, a treasure who never seems to go out of style and who always exhibits class. I loved his playing in 1958 and I love it now." Frank Rubolino copyright Cadence Magazine April 1999 Vol.25 no.4 (www.cadencebuilding.com)

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