Sunday, September 29, 2019

George Coleman - The Quartet (Smoke Sessions, 2019)

Tenor saxophone legend George Coleman has built an enviable multi-decade career as a leader and in-demand sideman. On this recording, he is joined by Harold Mabern (who has since passed away) on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. This was the group's first recording together, but they sound very tight and locked in, playing a nice selection of standards and occasional swinging original composition. "I Wish You Love" is a bright and nimble performance all around, with Coleman sounding excellent and receiving support from a bouncy and buoyant piano solo from Mabern, which soon returns to a lengthy and turbulent jam for the entire band. Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" is played as a fine ballad with an appropriately old-timey feel, with brushed percussion and a bed of lush piano chords and notes. The music evolves gradually, with the drummer moving to sticks and Coleman developing the pace into a more spirited performance. "Lollipops and Roses" is a well articulated medium tempo tune with the band playing a tight theme and swinging grandly over brushes and allowing time for very well played piano and drum solos. Clocking in at over twelve minutes, "East 9th Street Blues" is the longest track on the album, a strong mid-tempo swinger with cymbal accents that frame the action and heavy piano comping that keeps the forward motion in check. This pace seem perfect for the band and they are very comfortable, with a rolling section for the piano, bass and drums and a thick and fibrous bass feature. This is followed by a wonderful area where Coleman and Farnsworth trade phrases in an excellent and witty fashion. "When I Fall in Love" is a counterweight ballad with light saxophone and brushes setting a melancholic air, but Coleman's slightly acerbic tone and attack on his instrument keep things from getting maudlin, slowly building the tempo and bouncing the feel up a bit to its conclusion. This is very solid mainstream jazz, where you take a couple of distinguished elders who are still playing top flight jazz and hook them a malleable bassist and drummer a few decades younger and let the sparks fly. And they do. BTW, Mabern sounds great - he was playing tip-top to the end. The Quartet - amazon.com

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