It's been a good month for Mwandishi alumni. First Bennie Maupin released the fine acoustic astral jazz set Penumbra, the reed player's first album in eight years. And now trumpeter Eddie Henderson has released a well-titled, poised and gorgeous ballads' set, Precious Moment.
A new album from Henderson is almost always excellent news. While by no means as retiring a figure as Maupin, Henderson is hardly prolific, and has for years set aside sufficient non-music time to continue a parallel career in medicine.
Like Maupin and Penumbra, Precious Moment has less to do with referencing Henderson's career-making period with Herbie Hancock than it does with finding his own place within a broader jazz continuum. Despite pianist Kevin Hays' occasional use of synthesizer and Fender Rhodes, as well as a little judicious horn multi-tracking, Precious Moment celebrates Henderson's love of strong melody and real time, in-the-moment acoustic improvisation. His trademark lustrous tone, measured delivery and economy of expression are all in superb health. If Lee Morgan was a kung fu fighter, Henderson is a tai chi master: his supple, yielding playing is a rare brass balance between ying and yang, masculine and feminine.
The arrangements are mostly heads. With two tracks clocking in at over nine minutes and three more around six, there is plenty of space for extended soloing, most of it from Henderson, some from Hays and bassist Ed Howard. Henderson gives bright new twists to modern standards like Bill Evans' "Blue In Green" and Wayne Shorter's "Dance Cadaverous." He also gets inside old familiars like "Unforgettable" and "Silent Night" (the latter over drummer Billy Hart's assertive double-time snare ratatatting) with conviction and without a trace of sentimentality. Most of the tunes are in 3/4 time, but the concept here is beauty, not time signatures.
The album has little to do with 1970's Mwandishi and something more to do with Kenny Dorham's luminous 1959 minor masterpiece, Quiet Kenny, another album in which ying/yang qualities are unusually well balanced. (But it's still fun to play the Hancock association game. Hart was featured with Henderson on Mwandishi and Sextant two years later, while Shorter, whose lovely "Wild Flower" is featured alongside "Cadaverous," played with Henderson on Hancock's V.S.O.P. in 1976, and Gershwin's World in 1998.)
The doctor is in.
Personnel: Eddie Henderson: trumpet and flugelhorn; Kevin Hays: piano, synthesizer, Fender Rhodes; Ed Howard: bass; Billy Hart: drums.