Eugene Maslov: When I Need to Smile/The Face of Love
An expatriate from the former USSR, Eugene Maslov's second album for Mack Avenue Records and 3rd overall (the first two were for the now defunct Brownstone label) features four of his originals and sundry other tunes making up an assortment of nine tunes. He is joined by two first rank hard bop and modern jazz players on today's scene, Bill Evans' former bassist, Eddie Gomez, and drummer Omar Hakim whose resumé lists stints with George Benson, David Bowie and Miles Davis among others.
This is a rather intense session recalling pianists of like mind as Keith Jarrett and Eric Reed. There's a feeling of itchiness as each tune is taken head on with little room given to subtlety and indirection. The Man I Love is a duet for piano and drums on an up tempo as Omar Hakim's drums chatter and drive underneath Maslov's insistent piano treatment of this Gershwin Brothers classic. Another mile a minute cut is Miles Davis "Milestones" again with Hakim using high hats and other cymbals to emphasize the pianist's efforts. The onset of this tune creates anticipation for some very creative improvisation, but inexplicably stops short of fulfilling that promise. Gomez is pretty much drowned out by the frolicsome Maslov and Hakim except when he gets a chance to solo and even then is usually given only a few bars as with "Here Comes Juliette". On the usually peacefully played "Dindi" matters are made complex and interesting with Maslov trying to slow things down while Hakim is pounding away a mile a minute. But here there is some fine Gomez bass for a couple of bars or so. That Maslov is an incredible technician, there's no doubt. But he and we could have benefitted from a bit more finesse at this session.
But all is not lost. A gentler, more introspective Eugene Maslov emerges on his latest effort. Using three different drummers, the atmosphere is not as tense as on the previous disk where Hakim never let anyone catch their breath, neither performer nor audience. While the heat is turned down a bit, Maslov continues to take no captives. While easing up on his "Through Russian Eyes" he returns to the feeling of urgency on Herbie Hancock's "Chan's Song (Never Said)". Eddie Gomez is again on bass and again tends to get submerged beneath all the comings and goings. But there are memorable moments. Some come with "The Face of Love" and "Come Back to Me Love" where Shirley Horn takes on vocal duties. No one is going to drown her out and live to tell about it. Both these lovely ballads were composed by Gretchen Carhartt, who happens to own the record company. But she needs no special favors as she holds her own as a writer. Other fine moments come when Toots Thielemanns shows up, especially on his well-known Bluesette which he has played hundreds of times, but which always sounds good. There's less of a waltz pace to this version than one usually hears.
Of the two CDs, the second is preferable and is recommended.
Track Listing: Kolobok; Here Comes Juliette; Out of This World; When I Need to Smile; Living in the Past; The Man I Love; Dindi; Milestones; Sweet Lana Chan's Song (Never Said); More Love; Them There Eyes; The Face of Love; Seven Steps to Heaven; Peacocks; Bluesette; Groove Merchant; Through Russian Eyes; Come Back to Me Love
Personnel: Eugene Maslov - Piano; Eddie Gomez - Bass; Omar Hakim - Drums Eugene Maslov - Piano/Synthesizer; Eddie Gomez, Chuck Deardorf - Bass; Willie Jones, George Schuller, Steve Williams - Drums; Shirley Horn-Vocals; Toots Thielemans - Harmonica