Tuesday, May 23, 2023

George Coleman - Live At Smalls Jazz Club (Cellar Live Records, 2023)

Saxophonist George Coleman has had quite a career. Over eighty-eight years, he's been a soulful young lion out of Memphis and a bridge saxophonist in the great Miles Davis quintet before finally emerging into the spotlight from the nineties on as a revered elder, bandleader, and sideman of value. This album was recorded at Smalls Jazz Club during the spring of 2022 with a fine mainstream backup band, including Spike Wilner on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums. They sound very tight and locked in, playing a nice selection of standards and the occasional swinging original composition. "Four" harkens back to Coleman's time with Davis, with the band moving through the languid theme and then stretching out faster, with the rhythm section playing a strong role in the track's success, pushing Coleman forward and engaging him to improvise at speed for some time. The soulful romp "At Last" seems particularly geared toward tenor saxophone and piano, with Coleman adding quick boppish asides and Wilner providing steady workmanlike accompaniment. The standard "My Funny Valentine" provides another chance for lengthy reflection, with piano and saxophone stating a dark toned version of the familiar melody. Bass and subtle brushes enter after a few minutes, leading to an impressionistic rhythm section feature and a graceful conclusion. "Blues for Smalls" is a real highlight, with the group digging in and truly enjoying themselves, Coleman at his best, playing with added fire and bravado, while the rhythm team keeps the pace lively. George Coleman is a survivor, and you can hear the evolution of postbop jazz saxophone beneath his fingers. Aided by a supportive cast, he adds another solid effort to an admirable discography. Live At Smalls Jazz Club - amazon.com

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