February 8, 2009
Porter Records PRCD-4018
Never one to promote himself unnecessarily, Philadelphia-based vibraharpist Khan Jamal, 62, is best-known by reputation and affiliation, which include gigs with, among many others, drummer Sunny Murray, violinist Billy Bang and as part of drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society.
Yet, as this newly-released 1989 session demonstrates, his fluid parlando motions and percussive extensions could serve him well in any creative improvised music situation. With Khan spelled by cellist John Rodgers, bassist Warren Ore and drummer Dwight James, and consisting of seven Jamal originals, the CD program wafts among near-classical formalism and tough overtly jazzy riffs. With three of the four instruments the same as those in jazz’s most celebrated vibes combo, the Modern Jazz Quartet, MJQ-echoes can’t be avoided. But with the second, contrapuntal voice coming from a cellist rather than a pianist, that instrument’s dual rhythmic and melodic qualities create more distinctive fare.
One of the simplest heads, “Mrs. J’s Blues” appropriately demonstrates the duality of both Rodgers and this approach. With a string-laden introduction that is formalist and nearly ponderous, the piece opens up contrapuntally with heavy percussive chording from the vibist. James sounds a shuffle beat; Warren –, whose last name, instrument and home town suggest he’s a relative of Sun Ra/Thelonious Monk bassist John Ore – keeps the beat with thick double stopping. Off-beat for a blues, the end result suggests “Bag’s Groove” mated with Bach.
“A Dansk Morn”, on the other hand, which no doubt reflects the vibesman’s gigs in Europe with guitarist Pierre Dørge and bassist Johnny Dyani, is suitably atmospheric. It’s a broken-octave invention where Rodgers’ languid and moderato cello lines provide the filigree for ringing vibe exposition. Undulating up and down, the tune contrasts Khan’s fast-paced quadruple mallet ringing with the rest of the band’s adagio tempo that slowly works up to andante. Meanwhile “Innocence”, which could have been written in the Moorish part of the Iberian Peninsula, benefits from the drummer’s bell-ringing, the cellist’s exaggerated vibrato strokes and pinpointed tone smacks from the vibist-composer.
Swishing his brushes, vibrating his cymbals and pulsing flams at one spot, while accenting other tunes with bounces, drags and rolls – and providing gentle swing overall – James demonstrates why his affiliation with Khan has encompassed many different bands and evolved over many years. Additionally Ore’s bluesy bottom timbres and Rodgers’ spiccato and pizzicato plucks adapt rather than are overcome on the title track when Khan’s movements turn veloce with blindingly breezy double-and-triple timed chiming.
Timing out at only slight more than 38 minutes, is Cool’s only major drawback. Nonetheless in their playing, the quartet members negate the word’s self-aggrandizing meaning to demonstrate self-restrain that translates into legitimate “coolness”.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Professor B. L. 2. A Dansk Morn 3, Rhythm Thing 4. Innocence 5. Six Plus Seven 6. Mrs. J’s Blues 7. Cool
Personnel: Khan Jamal (vibes); John Rodgers (cello); Warren Ore (bass) and Dwight James (drums)