If you are an aficionado of tenor saxophonists with a big, bold, biting tone who can run changes in the blink of an eye, then George Coleman is your man. Now in his 88th year, over the course of his long career, he has had a gamut of experiences including B.B. King (1952/1955-56), Max Roach (1958-59), Slide Hampton (1959-61) and Miles Davis (1963-64). His discography both as a leader/co-leader as well as a sideman covers a panoply of well-known jazz names, but recently the archivist label Reel To Real, under the guidance of saxophonist/producer Cory Weeds, uncovered a couple of unreleased 1970s Coleman sessions. Firstly, in 2020, The George Coleman Quintet in Baltimore (recorded in 1971), and in 2023 Shirley Scott Queen Bee: Live at the Left Bank (recorded in 1972) with Coleman on tenor sax.
Live at Smalls Jazz Club is a quartet session in which Coleman is supported by pianist Spike Wilner, bassist Peter Washington and the always swinging drummer Joe Farnsworth. The eight-tune track list consists of well recognized creations that have been associated with Coleman throughout his professional life starting with the Miles Davis composition "Four." Coleman opens the number with a sly introduction, after which he rips into a long solo with his usual energetic dashing style. The rhythm section is all in and full of propellant swing. The other Davis associated tune is Richard Rodgers' "My Funny Valentine." Coleman's interpretation is full of structural logic and artful restraint. Washington's bass is big and clear throughout.
The blues have been part of Coleman's repetoire since his early years with blues bands, and thus it is no surprise that his own composition "Blues For Smalls" is included in this session. And a rollicking blues it is, filled with Coleman's long, looping runs. Wilner fills his lengthy solo with surging energy, Farnsworth's slick drumming thrusts the number forward, while Washington is his usual clever self with his interjections. The final three tracks"The Nearness Of You," "New York, NewYork" and "When Sunny Gets Blue"continue with the stellar performances that Coleman and his cohorts laid down in the previous cuts. There is no diminution in Coleman's big saxophone sound and his improvisations continue to be crafty and expansive.
Four; At Last; My Funny Valentine; Meditation; Blues For Smalls; Nearness Of You; New York,
New York; When Sunny Gets Blue.
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