Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Firehouse 12 Is Back + CD Pick

Fans of creative music can rejoice - the Firehouse 12 Fall 2012 Concert Series commences this Friday at 8:30 p.m.  First up is the E.J. Strickland Quintet in his 3rd appearance in the Elm City's premier performance space/recording venue but his initial date as a leader. The drummer/composer (pictured left) has worked with numerous groups and performers over the past dozen years, including regular gigs with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane as well as vocalists Nneena Freelon and Dianne Reeves.  He, also, is the main motor in his twin brother Marcus Strickland's ensemble.

Brother Marcus (tenor and soprano saxophones) is also part of EJ's crew along with David Bryant (piano), Jaleel Shaw (alto saxophone) and the splendid young bassist Linda Oh.  He has issued 1 CD as a leader, "In This Day" (StrickMuzik 2009) yet that recording illustrates not only his impressive musicianship but also his fine composing and arranging skills.  The music, not surprisingly, has plenty of power yet this drummer writes melodies that are much more than riffs to hang solos upon.  The concert features 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. (separate admission).  Firehouse 12 is located at 45 Crown Street in New Haven - for more information, go to firehouse12.com or call 203-785-0468.

Pianist George Cables has had a long career as both a leader and a sideman (currently he holds down the piano chair in The Cookers.)  He came to critical notice in the 1970s working with Bobby Hutcherson, Art Pepper, Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson as well as being closely involved with Dexter Gordon on his triumphant return to the United States.  He went on to work with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.  When you pay attention to Cables' piano, it is easy to understand why musicians hire him - he can and does play any style plus his solos are intelligently constructed.

His new CD, "My Muse" (HighNote Records), is a more personal project in that the music is dedicated to his long-time companion Helen Wray who passed in November of 2010. With bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis, Cables paints a loving portrait, long on melody, short on dissonance and filled with spirit. The title track, one of 4 Cables originals, is a bouncy strut with a touch of a Caribbean beat; it is preceded by another original, "Helen's Song"  that has a gentle sway, a hummable melody, and lovely counterpoint from Essiet.  Lewis doesn't push the beat as much as keep it simple and flowing (like the piano part.)  It's not surprising that the program is geared towards love songs but there is not a maudlin or false note in these performances. As opposed to playing a bravura ballad rendition of "The Way We Were", the trio gives it a lively yet respectful swing.  The trio dances through "You're My Everything", giving the Harry Warren melody a lively jolt.  Drummer Lewis contributes the sprightly "Hey, It's Me You're Talkin' To" with a great vamp that Cables build his impressive solo off of, leading to a short yet pithy statement from the composer.

The CD opens and closes with 2 short piano solos.  The opening track, "Lullaby", a Cables original, is just that, a sweet piece with a fine two-handed melody line and high, minor key, notes that resonate long after the piece fades (it's the only hint of sadness on the CD.)  "I Loves You, Porgy" is the last piece, a gentle reading with lines that rise and fall like breathing, coming to its soft ending far too soon.

Reading the liner notes while listening to "My Muse" may suggest a melancholy recording yet George Cables infuses this music and his memories with the finer qualities of his partner Helen Wray.  One hears joy, caring and love in these performances. And there's swing, a touch of blues, Island music and so much more, elegantly played by Messrs. Cables, Essiet and Lewis.  For more information, go to www.georgecables.com.

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