Mike LeDonne has been leading his own quartet at Smoke every Tuesday night for the past six years. On Hammond organ, he swings hard and fires up the audience on this live recording along with regulars Eric Alexander (tenor), Peter Bernstein (guitar) and Joe Farnsworth (drums). Their cohesive approach lights fires of the imagination, as the organ combo steps out with familiar songs and original pieces that ring soulfully through the room with a casual air. LeDonne has maintained a fresh outlook that marries the straight ahead traditions set down by folks like Milt Jackson and Benny Golson with the soulful funk of Charles Earland and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
It all comes together here, as his quartet turns up the heat unmercifully. Nat Adderley's "In the Bag , for example, reaches out with open arms and puts a grind into its motion, as LeDonne supplies a soft-edged bass line and wows the audience with his crisp right-hand attacks. His balanced program proves soulful, swinging and spirited. It's just what we need on Tuesday nights, as well as every other night.
Tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, who has enjoyed a steady Sunday night gig at Smalls with the Planet Jazz ensemble, brings a straight ahead quintet into the studio for this program of standards and originals. With him on this swinging session are guitarist Joe Cohn, pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Phil Stewart. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander sits in for "Systems and "3 for Carson , giving the ensemble a twin tenor front line that sizzles comfortably with a boy-next-door charm. Stewart makes you feel right at home. His big tenor recalls the heyday of Kansas City jazz and New York's timeless counterpart. Piano and guitar take extended solos to complement this tenor titan as he drives the unit with confidence. The album's title track lets Stewart demonstrate his love for a ballad, as he caresses the tune with a full tone and deep feeling. Meaning 'summer' in Italian, "Estate provides an opportunity for the saxophonist to express emotions openly through his sincere interpretation, with the band supplying a light bossa nova foundation.
The high point of the album, however, occurs on Hank Mobley's "Soul Station , which Stewart swings with a mighty thrill. He and Cohn drive this one higher and higher, complete with musical quotes and extended solo work delivered with great feeling.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Could It Be I'm Falling in Love; Spinky; Idle Moments; At Long Last Love; Prayer for Mary; Bones; In the Bag.
Personnel: Mike LeDonne: Hammond B-3 organ; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Joe Farnsworth: drums.
Tracks: Systems; Soul Station; Rain Check; Estate; Carving the Rock; 3 for Carson; Jacqueline; Cool Struttin'; Felicidade.
Personnel: Grant Stewart: tenor saxophone; Joe Cohn: guitar; Ehud Asherie: piano; Joel Forbes: bass; Phil Stewart: drums; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone.