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Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine!
Winning Spins By George Kanzler
Another Adventure, PJ Rasmussen (Third Freedom), finds the guitarist leading a septet, beefed up to a nonet on two tracks and reduced to a quartet on another, in a program of nine diverse originals ranging from rocking to hard bop, folk and modal to reflective ballad. Rasmussen, still in his early 20s, has absorbed rock as well as jazz influences, employing big, fuzz-toned rock chords on the nonet opener, “Full Speed Ahead,” a careering piece built on a wave-like baritone sax-led ostinato and a blues-rock vibe. Its nature intensifies as Lauren Sevian’s baritone solo is shored up by an increased back beat while claps join that rhythm behind Scott Robinson’s wailing tenor sax. Jim Ridl’s jangly piano solo gives way to the leader’s solo, begun as a maelstrom but settling down to jazzy tinkles as the theme returns. It’s ambitiously multi-faceted, as is the other nonet track, the title tune, a Charles Mingus influenced journey through time and tempo with tonal and dynamic shifts and the leader’s echoey guitar in a central role.
“Love Birds,” in contrast, is a straight-ahead hard bop number reminiscent of Grant Green or Kenny Burrell’s 1950s outings with tenor saxophonists; here, Nate Giroux echoes Hank Mobley. The modal “The Seven Seas” conjures Carlos Santana meeting Gil Evans, while “Ruthie,” a folksy ballad, suggests a rock guitarist in a jazz mode. Other songs are impressively episodic and genre eclectic. The quartet closer, “For David,” is an emotionally captivating, indelible ballad that is striking in its compelling simplicity.
The PJ Rasmussen Septet is at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn March 14; his trio will play Maggie Murray’s Pub in Dunellen, NJ on April 2.
Coming next: Freddie Bryant evokes a guitarist in solitude, communing deeply with his muse in its Dreamscape: solo, duo, trio, (GJK Sounds).
George Cables: Icon and Influences By Elzy Kolb
It’s tempting to play the six degrees of separation game while listening to George Cables talk about his background. From Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Haynes, Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins to Tony Williams and Jeff “Tain” Watts, Cables says: “I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have had the chance to play with many people who shaped this music.”
Cables was saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s pianist of choice for several years. “He’s my musical father. I remember him talking about Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane,” Cables recalls. “Dexter was there to give music lessons, not verbally but by example, about what he looked for and advised people to look for if they wanted to grow.” In 2006, Cables released the CD A Letter to Dexter, to pay tribute to his mentor and friend.
On Cables’ new recording, Icons & Influences (HighNote), he salutes other friends, colleagues and players who inspired him. In planning for the recording, he says, he went right to Duke Ellington, for whom he used to rehearse vocalists. “Ellington is someone who embodies this music. Just his concept, ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,’ certainly influenced me. It doesn’t have to be swing, but there has to be a groove, a root.”
In addition to Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” the new album includes Dave Brubeck’s homage “The Duke” as a way to recognize multiple greats with one tune. Brubeck’s Take Five was one of the first jazz records Cables owned and he admired Miles Davis’ version of “The Duke” from the Gil Evans-arranged recording Miles Ahead.
“The new CD is about honoring people who have meant a lot to me,” says Cables, who wrote the piece “Cedar Walton” in memory of that pianist who died in 2013. “Cedar was a big part of my music life.” During his early jazz years, Cables recalls standing behind Walton at Club Ruby in Queens, listening, watching and learning. “I admired Cedar and his music; I felt kinship with him. He just wanted to be a good band member, a good player,” a concept that resonated with Cables and became his goal.
“Farewell Mulgrew” is dedicated to Mulgrew Miller, another pianist the jazz world lost last year. “I remember him when he was young and skinny,” Cables says with a laugh. “He was serious and soulful, but also had a great sense of humor.” Trumpeter Woody Shaw, a former band mate of both Miller and Cables, would often talk about Mulgrew, Cables says. “Woody had an eye for people who were special.”
Several compositions on the CD were written by some of the iconic musicians Cables played with over the years, including vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem.” “He’s been a strong influence and he has recorded a lot of my music,” Cables says. “Our spirits match: Bobby’s a great musician; he’s a partner and a teacher to play with.” Saxophonist Joe Henderson’s theme song, “Isotope” is included, as is “Blue Heart” by Benny Golson. Cables found the music on yellowed paper in a drawer. “I don’t think I ever played it,” he says. “I like to end a CD with something quiet, so when it’s over and there’s silence you can stop and be with yourself. That’s ‘Blue Heart,’ a little something to take along after the music has stopped.”
Besides honoring his forbears and colleagues, in his daily life Cables is excited about and supportive of younger players, many of whom he meets while teaching at The New School. “I’m involved with young people at school and in workshops; I like to hear them and interact with them. It’s important to have that connection—that’s our foundation, but it can always move along.” While Cables doesn’t hit the clubs as often as he used to, he listens to a lot of new CDs, citing recent works by Gerald Clayton and Robert Glasper as among those that have caught his ear. And each summer for the past three decades, Cables has enjoyed going to Jazz Port Townsend. “I get to play with a bunch of people there, like Matt Wilson and Anat Cohen—she’s a force of nature! I have such a great time!”
Although Cables celebrates his 70th birthday later this year, in his spirit and enthusiasm he sounds more like a young lion than an elder statesman.
George Cables celebrates the release of Influences & Icons with Victor Lewis and Dezron Douglas at Jazz at Kitano March 14-15.
Coming next: Buster Williams mastering the “fine art of living dangerously”