Mixed emotions must underline this review. Center Stage, featuring bassist Eddie Gomez, drummer Steve Gadd and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber with Germany's superb WDR Big Band conducted by Michael Abene, was recorded in Cologne in January and February 2022. Sadly, Ronnie Cuber passed away in October, shortly after the album was released.
If this was Cuber's last hurrah, it thunders loudly above the rooftops, as his solos (on each of the album's nine numbers) and melodic passages are models of astuteness and control, lending the session inflexible vigor and depth. In other words, a wonderful way to take one's final recorded bow. As for Gomez and Gadd, the funky groove which prevails most of the way is their meat and potatoes, assuring that the rhythm (with help from guitarist Bruno Müller, pianist Simon Oslender and organist Bobby Sparks II) is in the very best of hands.
The session opens on a soulful note with Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and stays there for earthy readings of genial yet unassuming themes by Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Buddy Miles, Wilton Felder, Bill Doggett and a pair by Gadd ("Lucky 13" and "My Little Brother"). Pino Daniele's "Che Ore So" is an outlier, nestling in an even-tempered Latin groove behind warm solos from Gomez, Cuber and trombonist Ludwig Nuss. Nuss is one of four soloists from the WDR ranks; the others are alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer who trades volleys with Cuber on Dylan's "Watching the River Flow," tenor Paul Heller (Miles' "Them Changes") and trombonist Andy Hunter (Doggett's "Honky Tonk/I Can't Stop Loving You").
Besides "Che Ore So," Gomez solos on "Watching the River" and "Lucky 13," Gadd on "Signed, Sealed," Felder's "Way Back Home" and "My Little Brother," Muller on "Watching the River," Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Them Changes," Oslender on "Signed, Sealed," "Them Changes" and "Honky Tonk." There are two organ solos by Sparks, on "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Honky Tonk." As for the WDR, it is in the pocket all the way, blowing as if soul and funk were its natural habitat and generally keeping the enterprise swinging. For big-band enthusiasts, a rather obvious positive choice.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered; Watching the River Flow; I Can't Turn You Loose; Che Ore So; Them Changes; Way Back Home; Lucky 13; Honky Tonk / I Can't Stop Loving You; My Little Brother.
Title: Center Stage
| Year Released: 2022
| Record Label: Leopard
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