Joining the monthly parade of such previously proclaimed releases from Smoke Session Records as Louis Hayes’ Return of the Jazz Communicators and Jimmy Cobb’s The Original Mob are three new pianist led live albums.
Midnight Melodies, the first, out in July featured Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Curtis Lundy on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, and was recorded live at the Smoke Jazz Club in November, 2014. The trio takes its dynamic straight ahead approach to a collection of jazz classics—Milt Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove,” John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” and a couple of Billy Strayhorn pieces, “U. M. M. G.” and “Chelsea Bridge.
They cover three from pianist composer John Hicks, opening with “Two Heartbeats” and “Pocket Full of Blues” before adding an extended take on “Naima’s Love Song” prefaced by a Chestnut introductory reverie starting with the hymn “Sweet Hour Of Prayer”and morphing into “For All We Know.” It is a solo piano tour de force. The set closes with Miles Davis’s “The Theme.”
Out in August is Orrin Evans’ Liberation Blues recorded in January 0f 2014. Divided into two parts, the album begins with The Liberation Blues Suite dedicated to Dwayne Allen Burno who composed the first two of the five pieces: “Devil Eyes” and “Juanita.” Evan’s own “A Lil’ D. A. B. a do Ya” follows along with Donald Brown’s “A Free Man”(including a poetic recitation), and the suite closes with Evan’s “Liberation Blues.” Evans’ base, drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Luques Curtis, is joined by trumpeter Sean Jones and tenor sax man JD Allen. Both also show up on some of the later tracks.
The second part includes a couple of Evans’ originals, “Simply Green” and “Meant to Shine.” They take a modern turn with drummer Paul Motian’s “Mumbo Jumbo,” and follow with a reworking of the old chestnut “How High the Moon.” They end with “The Theme,” but then return for an encore—“The Night has a Thousand Eyes” with a spirited vocal from Joanna Pascale.
September brings an Eric Reed led quartet album, Groovewise, which the liner notes indicate was recorded on September 6 and 7, 2014. Allowing either for some kind of time warp or more likely a typo, something is wrong somewhere. Most of the album, eight of the ten tracks, consists of Reed originals. In the liner notes Reed describes “Until the Last Cat Has Swung” as a “hymn for all our fallen soldiers” referring to the all the jazz greats that have passed recently. “The Gentle Giant” was written for the laid back pianist Mulgrew Miller and plays a bit with “Giant Steps.” “Ornate” is a bit of musical word play on Ornette.
His “Una Mujer Elegante” was written for Marian McPartland, and “Bopward” is Reed’s interpretation of the kind of tune Charlie Parker might have written. He closes the set with the album’s title song, another of what he calls an “Ornette-ish” tune. Clifford Jordan’s “Powerful Paul Robeson” which opens the album and Christian McBride’s homage to Cedar Walton, “The Shade of the Cedar Tree” are the two non-Reed compositions.
The quartet has saxophonist Seamus Blake, drummer Gregory Hutchinson and bassist Ben Williams joining with Reed.
Given the high quality of the Smoke Sessions recordings to date, including these three fine new releases, jazz fans can only look forward with glee to what they’ve got planned for October and November, and hope that they can keep going into the new year.