COMBINATIONS / HAMPTON: Everyman is a King.1,4,6,9 CANNON: A Thought.2,4,7,9 Columbus Circle Stop.2,4,6,9 Amanda’s Bossa.2,4,7,9 Gary’s Tune.1,7,10 Combinations.1,5-7,9 ELLINGTON-MILLS: A Prelude to a Kiss.3,6,8,9 SAM JONES: One for Amos.2,6,9 TRADITIONAL: How Great Thou Art.8 ZINDARS: How My Heart Sings.6,9 VAN HEUSEN-DeLANGE: Darn That Dream / Gerald L. Cannon, bs with 1Gary Bartz, 2Sherman Irby, 3Steve Slagle, a-sax; 4Jeremy Pelt, 5Duane Eubanks, tpt; 6Rick Germanson, 7Kenny Barron, pn; 8Russell Malone, gtr; 9Willie Jones III, 10Will Calhoun, dm / Woodneck Records (no number)
This is bassist Gerald Cannon’s second recording, and his first in more than a decade. As you can tell from the header above, he has a slew of sidemen here to help him, and they are all first-rate players, but Cannon himself is the centerpiece of this show, not only with his bass but also with five of his own compositions.
The set is refreshing because—and I mean this as a compliment—it doesn’t think too much but just jumps feet first into each piece and takes off like a rocket. The whole set reminds me of some of Blue Note’s very best albums from the early 1960s, when Alfred Lion would dance around the studio while listening. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and alto saxist Gary Bartz are simply wonderful on the opener, Everyman is a King, listening to each other as they take turns soloing, later part of a chase chorus with drummer Willie Jones III, and Cannon’s rich, driving bass is never far from the surface. It’s the kind of performance that can give lessons to many among the younger generation on how to swing.
Cannon’s A Thought is a ballad, the theme initially played by altoist Sherman Irby whose tone is somewhat more sensual than Bartz’. Although both Irby and pianist Kenny Barron take fine solos, the prize on this track goes to Pelt, whose solo is an absolute gem. Yet another alto saxist, Steve Slagle, leads us into Ellington’s A Prelude to a Kiss with a somewhat aggressive, very non-Johnny Hodges-like tone. He is lyrical but more edgy, sounding a bit like Sonny Stitt, his solo quite interesting in creating new shapes and forms around Ellington’s tune. Mellow guitarist Russell Malone plays a nice double-time solo on this one, too.
Another Cannon original, Columbus Circle Stop is a driving tune in E minor, introduced by the bassist before leading into a bitonal lick played by the band. Irby is back on this one, and he and Pelt have a bit of a musical argument going on in a thrilling chase chorus…I’m not sure who really wins this one, but it’s great to hear, with Pelt going into the high range to let off a volley of triple-tongued notes and Irby doing his best to keep up. Jones’ drum solo here is really spectacular in a sort of Elvin Jones-ish kind of way, following which the piano comp and the bass leads us back to the principal melody for the ride-out. Amanda’s Bossa moves leisurely along, its ambiguous melody played lovingly by Irby and Pelt. Barron contributes a minimal but very tasteful solo here, Pelt is lyrical, and Irby plays a nice double-time chorus.
Sam Jones’ One For Amos, as Louis Armstrong used to say, is “a good ole good one,” a swinger that just screams late-‘50s/early ‘60s. Cannon clearly dominates this one, not only playing the introduction but also a two-chorus solo following the brief theme statement by the horns. He has a nice, light touch and a fine imagination, and Irby’s alto solo is both busy and inventive. Rick Germanson is on piano here, and his solo is minimal but tasty, ending on an unresolved chord, before Jones plays a flashy solo. This is followed by another Cannon original, Gary’s Tune, which almost has a reggae-type beat, except in a jazz manner. Bartz returns here on alto sax and dominates, playing the melody in a lightly swinging manner before embarking on a series of solos. It’s the kind of tune that has a slight soul feeling about it without hammering the concept over your head. Malone is also quite fine here, if not as scintillating as on Prelude to a Kiss. Bartz returns to ride things out.
How Great Thou Art is Cannon’s arrangement of an old hymn featuring just the duo of Malone and Cannon, and here his skills are really tested as he creates fascinating two-way dialogues, the bass essentially playing lead. This one is a real gem! How My Heart Sings, the Earl Zindars piece that opened Bill Evans’ 1962 album of the same name, is given an alternating 4/4 / 3/4 treatment and turned over for the most part to pianist Germanson. He channels a bit of Evans while still retaining his own identity, and the bass and drums really cook behind him. Cannon’s solo on this one too, even more inventively than Chuck Israels on the Evans original. Following this, Cannon’s Combinations kicks up its heels and dances, pulling the full band into the fray. Duane Eubanks is on trumpet here in place of Pelt, and he’s fine, but Bartz’ alto solo is the one that really commands attention with its consistent invention and harmonic daring. Barron plays his best solo of the set here, too, really digging in and finding new interstices in the tune. Cannon is equally inventive here, taking a bit of what both Bartz and Barron had just played and running with it.
The set wraps up with Darn That Dream, a song that jazz musicians all seem to love and I could live without. It was originally introduced by jazz singer Mildred Bailey during her brief stint with the Benny Goodman orchestra in 1939, but is probably more famous for the dreary arrangement played by Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” nonet in 1950. This is an a cappella vehicle for Cannon, who plays a ruminating, out-of-tempo introduction that eventually includes the melody of the song, making art out of dross. Indeed, his entire performance is a study in superb musical construction, showing the wannabes how you take a basic melody and work it so that it becomes something entirely new and even beautiful, but not in a “gee that’s pretty” sense. Cannon gets into the strange rising chromatics of Jimmy van Heusen’s creation, using them as a launching pad for a variety of permutations.
This is surely one of the best pure jazz albums of the year to date.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley