Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Smoke Sessions

The Smoke Sessions Records label features live performances of some of the most exciting mainstream jazz players on the New York scene, recorded at Smoke, the club on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The first two recordings have been released, with two to follow in the next couple of months, and bother are distinguished sets.

The first of the two released was Harold Mabern, "Right On Time" (Smoke Sessions 2013) from a live set last March. It features Mabern with John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, the same trio that recorded the equally excellent "Live at Smalls (Smalls Live 2013) last year. As I noted then, Mabern is a 77 year old pianist who has only in the past couple of years gotten the recognition he deserves for his catalogue of work as an outstanding veteran of this era. He had dropped from the radar in the 90s and early 2000s when most of his catalogue was released on Japanese labels t them), but has come back strongly in the U.S. with "Mr Lucky" (High Note 2012), the Smalls Live recording and now this outing. this time there are 11 straight ahead, sometimes soulful, sometimes bluesy, and always entertaining cuts.  Among them are "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", "My Favorite Things", "The Nearness of You", and a rousing "Cherokee" as the finisher. More first rate music from this trio.

The second CD is Vincent Herring, "The Uptown Shuffle" (Smoke Sessions 2013) recorded live at the club last April. Herring has a long list of CDs as a leader dating back to 1989; and session man, including a rousing "battle" with Eric Alexander, also from Smoke --- "Friendly Fire (High Note 2012); and several with the recently passed Cedar Walton that are standout sessions. Here his quartet includes Cyrus Chesnut on piano, Brandi Disterheft on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Farnsworth and Chesnut are veterans, and Disterheft a newcomer who has impressed with two recent CDs as a leader. All three are charming on the recording with Farnsworth especially standing out from the drum set. Songs like "Love Walked In" and "Polka Dot and Moonbeams" are putty in Herring's hands, and are surrounded by several other covers and also two Herring originals and one by Chesnut that fit seamlessly into this well rounded set. A second standout.

Expect good things from this label, things you really should go hear live when you can. Coming next -- one by Javon Jackson, another by David Hazeltine

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