One of the nice surprises of 2014 was the formation of the Smoke Sessions label. Their first several issues were actual performances recorded at the club. However, they seemed to have focused their efforts lately on live studio sessions cut at the wonderful Sear Sound studio in New York. The overall sound of these releases continues to be impressive, with an analog smoothness and clarity that is akin to a vintage Prestige or Blue Note.
For his Smoke Sessions debut, trumpeter Eddie Henderson opted for an interesting mélange of styles that hints at his many talents and he's come up with a real winner. The first two cuts recall his early fusion days and find George Cables on Fender Rhodes, making a sound that is surprisingly refreshing and original. "Sunburst" comes from Henderson's 1975 Blue Note debut and benefits from the especially tasty drumming provided by Carl Allen. "Dreams" is even better, as Henderson builds his solo and establishes a bewitching mood right up to the ending breathy whisper.
Cables pens two of the numbers and reminds us of his spirited voice. "Morning Song" is a sunny, yet deeply felt number showcasing Henderson and his ability to tell a story. Kicking off with an intriguing vamp figure, "Beyond Forever" eventually kicks into medium tempo swing. Henderson then lets loose for a few choruses before handing it off to Cables, who manages to perk an ear with his all too brief statement.
It is interesting to note in song selection the obvious homage to two of Henderson's contemporaries and obvious influences. Freddie Hubbard's "First Light" sounds so convincing because both Cables and Allen are veterans of the late trumpeter's bands. "Gingerbread Boy" is obviously indebted to Miles Davis, and Henderson closely aligns his own stylings to those of The Prince of Darkness. The only number that doesn't quite work is Woody Shaw's "Zoltan," a piece so associated with Larry Young that it always seems inconclusive when performed sans organ.
Henderson clearly sounds motivated by the talent he has assembled for this date, even if Gary Bartz seems a bit unengaged throughout. Hats off to Carl Allen especially, who in recent times has altered his muse to a more controlled and less effusive approach. Bristling with excitement and using a wider palate of textural colors, this might be his best playing of recent. Still a jazz luminary begging for wider appreciation, Cables' playing is worth the price of admission alone on this welcomed new addition to the catalog.
Track Listing: Sunburst; Dreams; Morning Song; You Know I Care; Beyond Forever; First Light; Together; Gingerbread Boy; Spring; Zoltan.
Personnel: Eddie Henderson: trumpet & flugelhorn; Gary Bartz: alto sax; George Cables: piano and Fender Rhodes; Doug Weiss: bass; Carl Allen: drums.
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