American alto saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith
and Canadian tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds
had been gigging together for almost two decades, mostly in Canada, but hadn't preserved any of their encounters on record until Hendrickson-Smith invited his companion to join him for a studio date in November 2019 at the renowned Rudy Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. The album was planned as a tribute to drummer Lawrence Leathers
who died in June of that year, age thirty-seven. Leathers' nickname was "Lo," hence the album's title, The Lowdown
(on Weeds' Cellar Music label).
When it comes to front-line partners, Hendrickson-Smith couldn't have fared much better. Weeds' tenor is weighty and strong, a perfect complement to Hendrickson-Smith's bright and bluesy alto. And when it comes to improvisation, neither one is ever at a loss for a resourceful and engaging turn of phrase. Rounding out the impressive quintet are Wisconsin-bred, New York-based pianist Rick Germanson
alongside bassist John Webber
and drummer Joe Farnsworth
, a pair of rhythmic dynamos who are so busy on the New York scene and have enhanced so many recordings that their names should be well known to attentive jazz fans.
Hendrickson-Smith wrote the album's title song and opening number and, if it seems mournful and blues-drenched, that is by design. Leathers' death, Hendrickson-Smith writes, "leaves a terrible void in all of us who were lucky enough to know him." The cheerless melody and Germanson's deft filigrees lead to ardent solos by Hendrickson-Smith and Weeds as Webber and Farnsworth lay the sturdy groundwork, as they do on every selection. The session, as it turns out, is divided almost evenly in halves, with two more compositions by Hendrickson-Smith, the mid-tempo charmer "Savin' Up" and impetuous "10:30," preceding a trio of melodious standards, "Nancy (With the Laughing Face"), "I Should Care" and "Don't Explain."
Hendrickson-Smith and Weeds are on their game from fore to aft and stem to starboard, as is their compliant rhythm section. Would that there were more of this enticing music to relish, as the session clocks in at a modest forty-three minutes. That is, however, the sole drawback in an otherwise splendid, congenial and well-recorded album whose performance is exemplary.
Side One: The Lowdown; Savin' Up; 10:30
Side Two: Nancy ( With The Laughing Face); I Should Care; Don't Explain.