Morning Song, a recently discovered live set from 1980 led by the great George Cables, is a tale of two gigs. While the quartet performances are middling, Cables' overall dynamism, particularly on his solo piano turns, lifts the disc above mediocrity.
The rhythm section of Cables, bassist John Heard and drummer Sherman Ferguson, is excellent, with the leader constantly inspiring Heard and Ferguson to meet his harmonic challenges. Heard's pizzicato on "Up Jumped Spring" is luminous; it also drives the Latin burner "Quiet Fire," with Ferguson finding an extra gear in his drum kit to complement Cables' flurries. The quartet is weakened, however, by Eddie Henderson, a fine trumpet player who clearly had a bad night. Throughout Morning Song his playing is fragmentary, distracted, sometimes sounding like he's catching his breath instead of blowing. On "Up Jumped Spring" Henderson is breathless and off-key. He rallies somewhat as each tune progresses and even comes up with a few interesting ideas and sustained riffs, but the overall effort is shaky.
Ultimately it's Cables' piano that saves Morning Song. He mines jazz's heavier elements, fusing Bud Powell's feeling, Fats Waller's juke joint geniality and Art Tatum's quick wit into his own transformative lyricism. For example, he gives perfunctory nods to the melancholia and sentimentality of "Who Can I Turn To" and the misty-eyed "I Remember Clifford" before redefining them in his image with sparkling runs of boundless invention. Bobby Hutcherson's "Stroll" begins with the measured pace the title implies but eventually cascades of notes burst forth. "As Time Goes By" becomes a skip through a meadow and he turns the ballad "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" into a lively hard bop exposition.
The glorious paradox is that Cables plays like someone who's familiar with the piano's most subtle nuances, yet is experiencing the joy of truly discovering the instrument for the first time. He explores each song carefully, interpreting it with depth and beauty. Morning Song shows why alto saxman Art Pepper named Cables as his favorite pianist and dubbed him "Mr. Beautiful."
On Green Dolphin Street; Who Can I Turn To?; Stroll; I Remember Clifford; Morning Song; Up Jumped Spring; Little B
George Cables: piano; Eddie Henderson: trumpet; John Heard: bass;
Sherman Ferguson: drums.
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