Saturday, May 12, 2018

Eddie Henderson - Be Cool (Smoke Sessions, 2018)

This is a very strong mainstream jazz album led by veteran trumpet player Eddie Henderson in the company of Kenny Barron on piano, Donald Harrison on saxophone, Essiet Essiet on bass and Mike Clark on drums. They come together for a fine, egoless session of originals and well known jazz standards that make for an enjoyable and accessible album. Mike Clark is quite well attuned to the rhythmic possibilities of the drums, and he and Essiet lay down the law on “Loft Funk” setting a strong foundation with pleasant chords from Barron building a fresh and funky feel for the brass to develop an interesting theme and short series of improvisations. This leads into a trio of excellent performances of well known jazz standards, beginning with “Fran-Dance” by Miles Davis, who was actually a friend of Henderson's family whom he met while growing up. A longtime admirer of Davis’s playing, this gives him excellent insight into the composition and inspires him into a slow burning solo that smolders throughout the performance. The rest of band plays in a subtle and refined manner which allows the familiar melody to really shine through. Another legendary trumpet player gets their due with their performance of Woody Shaw’s “The Moontrane.” This is a bright and punchy track with strong full band ensemble playing and some outstanding solos. Henderson’s solo is punchy and forward looking, driving the music forward with some deep seated saxophone on the side and powerfully swinging playing from the rhythm section. They top off this triumvirate of covers with an accomplished version of John Coltrane’s famous composition “Naima.” This is another attractive ballad from this collection, leaving plenty of space for Harrison to construct a well designed saxophone solo. Henderson held down the trumpet chair in some of Herbie Hancock’s electric ensembles in the early seventies which he alludes to in the original “The Sand Castle Head Hunter” and it builds a funky and snappy momentum which results in a fine ensemble performance and a tight groove. They take this up again with Hancock’s own “Toys” performed by the band in a respectful and classy formation. This album works very well, with a first rate selection of tunes, and crack playing from a very talented band. Smoke Sessions is really on a roll, with this collection joining the recent Renee Rosnes album among the best mainstream jazz LP’s so far this year. Be Cool -

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