The survival of jazz as a living art form depends on the transmission of essential performance elements from one generation to the next, with the proviso that youth eventually contribute something new to the tradition rather than simply stay in place. Heeding all aspects of this process,Bags Groove, Mike LeDonne’s homage to the late Milt Jackson, is not your run-of-the-mill tribute record. A youthful veteran conversant in a number of jazz styles, LeDonne spent several years in the last of Jackson’s working bands. Utilizing seven of his former employer’s compositions and one standard, the pianist’s arrangements for an octet honor the master’s preoccupation with adroit swing and blues feeling, while, at the same time, establishing a separate, more personal identity.
Throughout the record LeDonne achieves an overall unified sound. It’s a neat package with no rough edges, yet devoid of predictability. On top there’s an airy, precise melange which favors the flute of Jim Snidero and Steve Wilson’s alto flute, as well as trombonist Steve Davis, Jim Rotondi’s trumpet and flugelhorn, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and Wilson’s soprano sax. Riffs and background themes by various combinations of instruments enhance their solos, but are seldom repeated as the soloists switch, giving the impression of constant progress. Bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mickey Roker, both longtime associates of Jackson, nimbly move things along without any commotion or excess. They generate a buoyant swing that is rapidly becoming extinct, as the rhythmic emphasis of jazz evolves into something harder, jarring, and more variegated.
Within self-imposed parameters consisting of short tracks and limited blowing room for the band, LeDonne creates music that never stands still. On tracks such as “The Prophet” and “Compassion,” his comping invigorates the soloists, particularly Davis and Nelson. LeDonne’s own turns frequently consist of long, sweeping arabesques that evolve into funkier, more grounded lines. During “Reunion” he effectively mixes Horace Silver-like patterns, rapid runs, and Latin-motifs, and by altering his touch produces different textures. His Hammond organ (keyboard only—no bass pedals) adds a jolt of electricity to “Namesake” without muddying the ensemble’s refined balance.
Track Listing: 1. The Prophet; 2. Compassion; 3. Reunion; 4. Namesake; 5. The Harem; 6. Little Girl Blue; 7. Sava Bella; 8. Bags Groove.
Personnel: Jim Snidero--flute; Steve Wilson--alto flute, soprano sax; Jim Rotondi--trumpet, flugelhorn; Steve Davis--trombone; Steve Nelson--vibes; Mike LeDonne--piano, organ; Bob Cranshaw--bass; Mickey Roker--drums.
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