Two first–rate albums by classically trained Russian emigré Eugene Maslov whose technical prowess is equaled only by his fondness for American Jazz. The first features Maslov’s trio (bassist Eddie Gomez, drummer Omar Hakim) all the way, the second a trio (or trios) with guests Shirley Horn and Toots Thielemans added on two selections apiece. When I Need to Smile,
apparently the earlier of the sessions, is a polychromatic showcase for Maslov’s impressive talents but if I’d been supervising the production I’d have led with the best of his four compositions, “Here Comes Juliette,” instead of the klunkier “Kolobok,” and deep–sixed the rock–style groove on Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Aside from that there’s scant cause for complaint as Maslov meshes well with Gomez and Hakim while deftly using both hands to coerce every measure of color and dynamics from his instrument and fashion an entertaining program of standards and originals that includes (besides his four and “The Man I Love”) Arlen / Mercer’s “Out of This World,” Jobim’s “Dindi,” Miles Davis’ “Milestones” and Gretchen Carhartt / Tom Robinson’s handsome title selection. Maslov opens The Face of Love
with another two–fisted showpiece, “Chan’s Song,” but the Herbie Hancock / Stevie Wonder composition is more melodically and harmonically rewarding than “Kolobok.” Jack Segal’s “More Love” features Thielemans’ expressive harmonica, as does the well–known “Bluesette,” which Thielemans co–authored with Norman Gimbel. The standard “Them There Eyes,” taken at a gently loping pace, precedes Horn’s first appearance, on “The Face of Love.” She’s superb there, as she is on a second engaging ballad, “Come Back to Me Love” (both written by the album’s executive producer, Carhartt). Maslov shows on each of them that he is a sharp and sensitive accompanist, while with the trio alone (Gomez, bass; Willie Jones, drums) he unleashes his superlative chops on Miles Davis’ scampering “Seven Steps to Heaven,” Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks,” Jerome Richardson’s “Groove Merchant” and his own haunting essay, ”Through Russian Eyes.” Maslov, who’s not yet well–known in this country, looks to be fairly young, which means his future as a Jazz musician appears to be quite promising. Stay tuned.