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Mike LeDonne: Then and Now

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Throughout the history of jazz there have been a sizable number of minor poets who have contributed greatly to the richness of the music in all its styles and genres. Such pianistic talents as Herbie Nichols and Elmo Hope, to name just two, added much to the jazz legacy without gaining much popular appeal in the process. This neglect of talent is still a very viable reality today, with so many well-schooled players fighting for what is and has always been a rather limited market. A bit older than such name players as Mulgrew Miller and Geoff Keezer, but younger than such legends as Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones, pianist Mike LeDonne has been a reliable commodity on the New York scene for many years now without gathering much fame. His most visible role has been as a member of Milt Jackson's band, but with the new release of his seventh album as a leader (five for Criss Cross and two for Double-Time) his own time in the spotlight has clearly come.

It in no way takes anything from his past recordings to suggest thatThen & Nowis LeDonne's masterwork. After just one hearing, it's easy to infer that a deep and swinging experience was had by all and that LeDonne plays a hell of a lot of piano. This set is also proof that a musician doesn't need to fall into the display of avant-garde screams and hollers to be progressive and forward- thinking for, as LeDonne and company prove, it is possible to advance the music while still working within the tradition.

LeDonne has chosen his company well too, and this also accounts for the splendid payoff. Tenor man Eric Alexander and trumpeter Jim Rotondi have been in-sync front line partners for many years now, as have been bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth. These men eat up all of the creative twists and turns like a tasty breakfast cereal and the program is composed entirely of LeDonne originals save for substantial re-workings of Hancock's "The Sorcerer" and Monk's "Round Midnight."

Duke Ellington always said that he tailored his writing to the individual talents of his ensemble members and surely there must have been something in that approach based on the evidence of his recorded legacy. LeDonne too knows the benefits of such a strategy. For instance, his "Trane Song" takes perfect advantage of the yearning cry and manual dexterity that is at the heart of tenor saxophonist Alexander's style and which certainly has its origins in the work of John Coltrane. "Continuum" also makes a strong statement over its 10- minute duration while never wearing out its welcome, with Farnsworth providing a poly-rhythmic groove akin to Art Blakey and Rotondi hitting the high notes with the clarity of a Freddie Hubbard.

This is the second Double-Time release to appear from LeDonne in just over an 18-month period, leading one to suspect that producer Jamey Aebersold knows a good thing when he hears it. And as an added footnote of interest for those with more of an inside knowledge of the current scene, please notice that accomplished drummer and jazz historian Kenny Washington takes on the role of assistant engineer here alongside expert A.T. Michael McDonald (no wonder Farnsworth's drums sound so good!) In addition, the insightful liner notes are provided by Bill Charlap, an extraordinary and underappreciated jazz pianist in his own right!


Track Listing: Then and Now, The Sorcerer, Trane Song, Schism, Round Midnight, Seeds, Continuum, Insight, Little Millie's Hat (66:32)

Personnel: Mike LeDonne- piano, Eric Alexander- tenor saxophone, Jim Rotondi- trumpet, Peter Washington- bass, Joe Farnsworth- drums

| Record Label: Double-Time Jazz | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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