Friday, August 1, 2008

Caramoor Day One: Ahmad Jamal

I would like to apologize for the ridiculous lateness of this post, and for the fact that this (and the next few about Caramoor) is going to be (more or less) the ramblings of a half-asleep, drooling maniac as opposed to the work of the regular, wide awake Callum MacKenzie/ Jazzmonster that you've all come to know and love. I have been attending the festival on assignment for the Scarsdale Inquirer, and tonight at Caramoor- a beautiful venue, by the way- I saw Ahmad Jamal, who was brilliant tonight in ways I was not expecting.

In all honesty, Jamal, who is now seventy eight years old, sounds like he's twenty eight. I'm serious. I have it in my notes: "Reminds me of Jason Moran..." And he did. The way he played in concert- I can't speak for the way he plays on his new record, "It's Magic-" was reminiscent of Moran's choppy stylings down to the way tunes like "Insertia" and "Gyroscope" rambled through different themes only to wind up in some kind of funky, bass-heavy jam. Even "Poinciana," that (admittedly beautiful) staple of easy listening jazz, sounded full of energy. Jamal almost apologized for playing the tune: "You've probably heard this many times, and you're going to hear it again," Jamal said before jumping into a half-crazed, swinging version. A half-crazed version of "Poinciana!" Who knew?

The most fun part of seeing Jamal, however, was seeing his percussionist Manolo Badrena in action. The man is a force of nature, all swinging arms and hilarious expressions. Of his many random toys, the two that I liked the most were a makeshift pipe which he has created from a pipe used in his car (I'm serious), and a gigantic circular drum from Iran that as far as I could tell is called a "Daff," or "Doff," or "Daugh." All I can say is, it sounds like "cough," but with a "d."

Having gone in expecting to hear Jamal play good but old-fashioned bop variations of standards- what I'm used to hearing him play- I was more than a little bit blind-sided by howmodern the whole concert was. But I was blind-sided in a good way.

Tomorrow I'll be seeing the dueling Cuban pianos of Elio Villafranco and Chuchito Valdes and some random variation of Mulgrew Miller's longstanding Wingspan group. Oh yeah, and I'll be seeing the Wynton Marsalis Carnival of Horrors- er, septet, who I desperately hope will be playing tunes from his upcoming record, "He and She," a song cycle about how when a man loves a woman very much and they both- aw, well, you'll figure it out yourself. Did I mention it's based on a poem by Wynton? So psyched. Hopefully I'll post on all of this madness tomorrow, but if not I will on Sunday.

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