Spike Wilner, the impresario of Smalls Jazz Club, has done it again. From the riches of the live performances there night after night, he has plucked four sets and produced them, with the artists, for four marvelous new CDs. If you cannot be at Smalls to hear the music live, and have not yet signed up to see live performances every night on your computer, then this is the next best thing. The sound on each is great, the balance among the instruments wonderful, and the background noises that are there are subdued but give one a sense of being in the room. This makes 40 CDs now in the Smalls catalogue. For those interested in some more background, see the interview with Wilner on the blog site "All About Jazz" dated April 23, 2012 entitled "Big Jazz on SmallsLIVE."
First up is the veteran pianist Harold Mabern, with Joe Farnsworth on drums and John Webber on bass. Harold Mabern Trio "Live at Smalls" (SmallLIVE 2013)features a 77 year old pianist who has never gotten the full recognition he deserves for his catalogue of work but who is one of the truly outstanding veterans of this era, alongside, for example, a luminary like Kenny Barron. He dropped from the radar in the 90s and early 2000s when most of his catalogue was released on Japanese labels (and they are great CDs if you want to get them), but has come back strongly in the U.S. recently with "Mr Lucky" (High Note 2012) and now this outing. Seven tracks fill the CD with the kind of good old fashioned, driving mainstream jazz sound, sometimes straight ahead, sometimes soulful, sometimes bluesy, and always entertaining. They stretch out on some rousing great tunes like "I'm Walking" and the "Road Song," boogie on "Boogie for Al McShann", and do up "Sesame Street" very cleverly. First rate music from a first rate trio.
The next CD is led by Joe Magnarelli, a veteran trumpet player with a catalogue of seven recordings as a leader, beginning in 1995 with "Why Not?" (Criss Cross 1995) on which he worked with Renee Rosnes, Eric Alexander, and Peter and Kenny Washington. That's a heck of a start and is indicative of the on-going quality of this mainstream trumpeter's work. With his first six CDs on the foreign label Criss Cross, he still is getting better knows to the U.S. audience with his last CD on Reservoir and now this one on SmallsLIVE. Hopefully more people will get to hear and appreciate his work. Here, on Joe Magnarelli, "Live at Smalls" (SmallsLIVE 2013), he brings to the club Mulgrew Miller on piano, Jason Brown on drums and Duane Burno on bass. The group balances some new material with a few classics. "Ruby, My Dear" and "My Ideal" stand out as Mulgrew Miller, a personal favorite, gets some time to stretch out alongside Magnarelli, who himself plays with wonderful control and emotional balance on the songs. They tear it up pretty well too when they want. All in all a nicely balanced set, both sonically between the instruments and muscially with the choices.
Alex Sipiagin, "Live at Smalls" (SmallsLIVE 2013) is next up. Sipiagin is a 46 year old trumpeter from Russia, relocated to the U.S. in the 1990s. He has 12 recordings since 1998, most on Criss Cross, so he too is establishing himself with the U.S. audience. He has worked with many name players on these recordings inlcuding Chris Potter, David Binney, Craig Taborn, Antonio Sanchez, Mulgrew Miller, Seamus Blake, and David Kikowski. He plays modern hard bop music, a little less traditional than the pure mainstream, but very exciting to hear. His regular partners Binney,Potter, and Sanchez, are all conversant in that style, and together they have produced a number of outstanding recordings. Here he is working with Blake and Kikowski along with Lage Lund on guitar, Boris Koslov on bass and Nate Smith on drums. This all-star cast is tight, as many have been a part of Sipiagin's band for a while, and the addition of guitarist Lund is a brilliant choice that stretches the band's harmonies and the level of excitement even further. With five songs only, each is ten or more minutes, which allows a lot of stretching out, improvisation, and interplay that often one only gets live. This is another lively set with lots to hear -- lots of interesting combinations, dynamic changes, and improvisations. This modern mainstream set is a dynamic listen.
Finally, there is young British saxophonist Will Vinson, "Live at Smalls" (SmallsLIVE 2013) playing with Lage Lund on guitar, Aaron Parks on piano, Matt Brewer in bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Vinson has a recent outing, his second, called "Stockhom Syndrome" (Criss Cross 2012) with Lund and Parks that is impressive, as is this live outing. This is a youthful band of up and coming leaders. Lund had an earlier outing as a leader on SmallsLIVE, which was terrific, and Aaron Parks is a young pianist who produced one of the outstanding debut albums in recent years, "Invisible Cinema" (Blue Note 2008), was a co-leader with James Farm, "James Farm (Nonesuch 2011), and has recorded as a sideman with players like Terrance Blanchard, Francesco Cafiso, Gretchen Parlato, Ferenc Nemeth, Christian Scoot, and Ambrose Akinmusire. I've posted about Parks four times in the past, both as a leader and sideman, and have always been enthused about his work. This is a set of seven songs, highlighted for me by Benny Golson's "Stablemates" and "Morning Glory". But perhaps another tune tells you about the group and the leadership of Vinson -- it's called "Swagger."
A top notch set of four live sets -- wish I had been there, but at least I can watch via Smalls' amazing back catalogue available to view on-line to members. And membership is very inexpensive for what you get, which includes live music every night, so check it out on the Smallslive.com website.