31st Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival kicks off this week beginning Wednesday night with notable Italian pianist Stefano Bollani and his trio performing at the SFJAZZ Center. The next night, finds the festival's headlining act, Ahmad Jamal gracing the stage at Davies Symphony Hall with his superb quartet featuring Reginald Veal (bass), Herlin Riley (drums), and percussionist Manolo Badrena. Speaking from someone who has seen the legendary pianist perform on a number of occasions, I can absolutely guarantee that this will no doubtfully be a great show.
With this show only being a few days away, I thought it would be fitting to highlight one of the pianist's more underrated, yet brilliant releases in Jamal Plays Jamal. This record, which came out in 1974 during a time the pianist was experimenting with a more electric-fusion sound while he was recording for 20th Century, finds Jamal playing mostly on a Fender Rhodes piano while being backed by a solid group of musicians including Jamil Nasser (bass), Frank Gant (drums), and Azzedin Weston (Randy Weston's son) on congas. The record has an overall funky soul jazz sound that is very groove-oriented, especially on tracks like "Eclipse", "Dialogue" and "Swahililand" (famously sampled by J Dilla on De La Soul's "Stakes is High"). Even though the jazz great tends to receive more critical praise for his earlier works on Argo and Cadet Records, Ahmad Jamal released a number of great albums in the seventies, like Jamal Plays Jamal, that successfully blended the "cool" be-bop sounds of the fifties and sixties together with the more experimental explorations of the seventies.
Ahmad Jamal - Swahililand