The New York All-Stars: Live Encounter

Chris May By

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Some things live forever and take-no-quarter hard bop is one of them... If you time travelled back to New York City circa 1958 and wandered into the Half Note or Five Spot, Live Encounter contains the sort of music you might have heard. Tough, emotionally-rich jazz with no-fuss head arrangements, extrovert horn solos and a propulsive rhythm section. The album, recorded at London's Pizza Express Jazz Club in 2018, will appeal to anyone who keeps their Hank Mobley and Tina Brooks albums close to hand.

The New York All-Stars is fronted by the twin tenor saxophones of Eric Alexander and Seamus Blake, supported by veteran hard-bopper Benny Golson's pianist and organist Mike LeDonne and a rhythm section variously hailing from Austria, Italy and Sweden. While this is not exactly a cutting contest, Alexander and Blake go head-to-head throughout.

The album's 1958 NYC club connection does not stop at the Half Note or Five Spot. When LeDonne switches from acoustic piano to organ and the All-Stars get into the Hammond B3 / tenor end of hard bop, as they do with exuberance on LeDonne's "Incazzato" and Alexander's "Eddie Harris," you could almost be in Smalls Paradise the night Jimmy Smith recorded Cool Blues (Blue Note, released 1980), with Tina Brooks the featured tenor. LeDonne and guitarist Erik Soderland turn in badass solos on both tracks.

Four of the tunes are originals, two by Alexander, two by LeDonne. Three are covers: John Coltrane's "Naima," John Klenner's "Heartaches" and Lionel Ritchie's "Still." The last is the album's sole card-carrying ballad and features guest vocals from London's Ian Shaw, an old friend of Alexander (the pair first recorded together on Shaw's Milestone album Soho Stories in 2000). "Naima" is usually rendered as a gentle ballad, from most of Coltrane's several recorded versions onwards. Here the tempo and temperature are dialled up. The same goes for "Heartaches." Dexter Gordon gave it a half-ballad, half-swinger treatment on Doin' Allright (Blue Note, 1961) and the All-Stars also crank it up.

Nobody tries to move hard-bop's goal posts here, thank the stars, and the ball goes through them dead centre every time.

Track Listing

Encounter; Naima; Incazzato; Still; Second Impressions; Heartaches; Eddie Harris.


Eric Alexander: saxophone, tenor; Seamus Blake: saxophone, tenor; Mike LeDonne: organ, Hammond B3; Erik Soderlind: guitar; Aldo Zunino: bass, acoustic; Bernd Reiter: drums; Ian Shaw: voice / vocals.

Album information

Title: Live Encounter | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Ubuntu Music



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