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The Heavy Hitters: Heavy Hitters

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The Heavy Hitters: Heavy Hitters
The self-titled debut from the Heavy Hitters, pianist Mike LeDonne's latest sextet, has the feel of a tribute album. However, unlike most recordings of that nature, there is no classic repertoire present, as all nine tracks are penned either by LeDonne or his colleague, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. Instead, it is a tribute to a sound that LeDonne and partners are aiming for: in this case, that of the iconic Blue Note label's 1950s-60s period, when artists such as Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and many others effectively placed their stamp on midcentury jazz. From the bold yet straightforward design of the album's cover, to the choice of recording venue in fabled Blue Note producer Rudy Van Gelder's former studio, Heavy Hitters evokes that golden era of jazz with panache and top-quality musicianship.

The musicians do not disguise their musical debts. The crackling opener, "Hub," will have Hubbard fans going back to revisit classic gems such as Hub-Tones (Blue Note, 1963) or Breaking Point (Blue Note, 1964), and the Horace Silver vibes run deep on "Silverdust," with a hard-bop head that sails along effortlessly and with an undeniable groove. Elsewhere other jazz legends are acknowledged, as "Cedar Land" is built over a chord progression from pianist Cedar Walton's "Holy Land," while "This is Something New" is adapted from an unfinished tune by saxophonist George Coleman.

Projects of this sort invariably take the risk of becoming mere exercises in nostalgia, reminding us of the unsurpassed greatness of the titans of old. While there are moments here in which that can happen, as a listener temporarily forgets that they are hearing something recorded not in 1965 but in 2022, the abundance of strong playing throughout the disc is more than enough to maintain interest. LeDonne's solos are terrific, but perhaps even more impressive is his comping, which is consistently inventive and rhythmically tenacious: check out his work underneath the soloists on the Latin-hued "Un Dia es un Dia" as evidence, where he digs in with zest to keep the music moving. The horns, which include not only Alexander but also alto saxophonist Vincent Herring and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bring plenty of fireworks to the proceedings; but they are also able to carve out more pensive ruminations as well. Alexander's heartfelt statement on the lovely ballad "Big Richard" is a case in point. And the bass-drums tandem of Peter Washington and Kenny Washington is tough to beat, with impeccable instincts for swing and groove.

All in all, this is a satisfying release that extracts a lot of fine contributions from musicians who are indeed among the "heavy hitters" of their generation. Fans of classic jazz will very much appreciate the spirit and dedication on display here.

Track Listing

Hub; New Day; Silverdust; Un Dia es un Dia; Big Richard; Chainsaw; This is Something New; Cedar Land; Bluesit.

Personnel

Mike LeDonne
organ, Hammond B3
Eric Alexander
saxophone, tenor
Jeremy Pelt
trumpet
Vincent Herring
saxophone
Rale Micic
guitar

Album information

Title: Heavy Hitters | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Cellar Music Group


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