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George Cables: I'm All Smiles

Jack Bowers By

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George Cables, whose elegant piano has graced the jazz scene in New York City and elsewhere for more than five decades, has every reason to be All Smiles; at age seventy-four he is back at the keyboard, as sharp and inspired as ever, following surgery for ulcers that removed one leg above the knee. To mark the auspicious occasion, Cables guides a rhythm section of longtime friends and colleagues, bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis, through its paces on the thirty-ninth recording as leader or co-leader of his own ensemble.

"This record," Cables says in the liner notes, "is a kind of thank-you for all the love and support I received from everyone. Their positivity was encouraging and uplifting when I needed it most. It made me want to come back stronger than ever." And so he has. If there were any adverse consequences from the surgery and its aftermath, they are imperceptible here. Cables' touch is sure and strong, his command of the vernacular unflagging. In short, he continues to play the piano with the brio and dexterity of someone half his age.

The leader is aided and abetted at every turn by Essiet and Lewis who know him well and are always there to secure a smooth and comfortable landing area. Essiet solos impressively when called upon, while Lewis is equally persuasive with brushes or sticks. As Cables puts it, "I may be captain of the ship, but Essiet and Victor are no mere crew members. They have an equal role in making the music happen." And speaking of the music, it is a pleasurable mix of standards from the Great American Songbook and jazz staples by Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Freddie Hubbard, Thelonious Monk (one of Cables' seminal influences) and the leader himself (the lively "Celebration"). He even unearthed a "title" song, "I'm All Smiles," from the 1946 film The Yearling, which starred Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman and Claude Jarman Jr.

After affirming his upbeat frame of mind with "Young at Heart" and "I'm All Smiles," Cables turns to Shorter's well-grooved "Speak No Evil," the Latin favorite "Besamo Mucho" and the first of two likeable themes by Monk, "Ugly Beauty" (the second, the supple ballad "Monk's Mood," ends the session with Cables on solo piano). Sandwiched between are Sammy Fain / Paul Francis Webster's "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," "Celebration," Pastorius' poetic "Three Views of a Secret" and Hubbard's boppish "Thermo." With I'm All Smiles, Cables proves beyond a doubt that his well-earned reputation as one of the jazz world's leading pianists remains as firm and enduring as ever.

Track Listing: Young at Heart; I’m All Smiles; Speak No Evil; Besame Mucho; Ugly Beauty; Love Is A Many Splendored Thing; Celebration; Three Views of a Secret; Thermo; Monk’s Mood.

Personnel: George Cables: piano; Essiet Essiet: bass (1-9); Victor Lewis: drums (1-9).

Title: I'm All Smiles | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: HighNote Records

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