When George Cables sat at a bright red Steinway at the Society for Ethical Culture during the 2008 JVC Jazz Festival this past June and played his first notes of the evening, it was immediately clear that his recent illnesses, surgeries and convalescence had not blunted his enviable skills. He played an excellent set that night, selecting most of the tunes from his solo double-CD You Don't Know Me, an ambitious and impressive mix of spirituals, originals and standards.
Cables can play with feathery lightness or deft, full-bodied chops. His fingers glide effortlessly along the keys, intoning and improvising within the melody like a vocalist. No matter what the material, Cables plays with a spryness that is impatient with sadness or despair; he's too exuberant to let those emotions rule. Cables turned "My Foolish Heart" and "You Don't Know What Love Is," two timelessly despairing ballads, into playful romps, rejoicing at the wonder of love instead of cowering in the darkness.
A number of Cables originals are loving tributes. The beautiful "EVC," composed for his mother; "Helen's Song"a growing standard in the contemporary jazz canonand "Lullaby" were written for his wife. ("Helen's Mother's Song," another tune on the CD, cleverly shares melodic similarities with "Helen's Song" in the way that a mother and daughter share genetic traits.) When he played these songs live both his concentration and wordless vocalizing increased as his emotions kicked in exponentially.
Even among the echoes of Bill Evans on "Waltz for Debby" or ironclad standards like "Stella by Starlight," Cables asserts his own deep-voiced confidence and facility. The sentimental "The Way We Were" is merely a starting point for his harmonic expositions, transforming the misty watercolor memories into sharp, boldfaced recollections of the good old days. He can play poignant single-note lines or whirlwind flurries without a misstep and nothing escapes the gravitational pull of his ideas.
The last tune of Cables' set was a tune not on You Don't Know Me, a rollicking version of "'Round Midnight" where he replaced the languid tempo recalling the end of a long day with the anticipation of a party waiting to happen. Cables' boogie-woogie and stride-laced tour de force suggested a group of men primed to raise hell from the first bar on the right and straight on till morning.
Track Listing: Disc One: My Foolish Heart; You Don't Know Me; EVC; Up Jumped Spring; You Don't Know What Love Is; Lullaby; Helen's Song; Helen's Mother's Song' Spookarella;
Honey Lulu; Disc Two: Here's One; Go Down Moses; Going Home; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Senorita de Aranjuez; Looking for the Light; Waltz for Debby;
Stella by Starlight; Morning Song; Ana Marie; The Way We Were.
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