Label/Year: Woodneck Records, 2017
Lineup: Gerald Cannon: bass; Gary Bartz, Sherman Irby, and Steve Slagle: alto saxophone; Jeremy Pelt and Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Rick Germanson and Kenny Barron: piano; Russel Malone: guitar; Willie Jones III and Will Calhoun: drums.
McCoy Tyner’s regular bass player, Gerald Cannon, has been a valuable sideman since he arrived in NY at the age 28. In his career, he had the privilege to gig with iconic artists such as drummers Art Blakey and Elvin Jones, pianist Cedar Walton, Hammond master Jimmy Smith, and saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris, and Stanley Turrentine, just to name a few.
His reputation has risen exponentially, but a busy schedule kept preventing him from recording under his own name. He eventually did it in 2004, on his eponymous album, whose lineup included alto saxophonist Sherman Irby and pianist Rick Germanson, who both joins him in this Combinations. By using specific band formats for each tune, Cannon enriches his work with the sound of accomplished individualities.
Every bass note played on the intro of Slide Hampton’s “Every Man is a King” feels like resonant punches on the bull’s eye until anchoring in an evocative hard-swinging romp whose vitality stems from the combination of agitated walking bass, tilting drumming, and luxurious piano harmonies. Brisk solos filled with nimble ideas burst from the musical minds of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Gary Bartz, and ultimately Germanson, who quotes a tiny bit of “Fascinating Rhythm” before trading fours with the drummer.
Also resorting to a bass intro, the vibrant “Columbus Circle Stop” is my favorite of the 11-track list. Cannon’s lick serves as the basis for the A section groove and matching melodies find poise over the piano accompaniment, which almost reproduces the sound of a train on the tracks. Scalding argumentations arise when Irby and Pelt activate the call-response mode, also encouraging the rhythm section to participate in their continual exchanges.
Two classics claim their own space on the track list: while “Prelude to a Kiss” swims in beautiful sentiments drawn from Steve Slagle’s alto sax and Russell Malone’s rounded guitar chops, “Darn That Dream” is designed solely by Cannon, whose fingers slip to Parker’s “Donna Lee” once in a while.
Bassist and guitarist form a duet in the African-American religious hymn “How Great Thou Art” and interact once again on “Gary’s Tune”, where they are joined by Bartz and drummer Will Calhoun, in order to create a smoothly textured crossover jazz.
The record wouldn’t be the same without the soft-toned Brazilian mood of “Amanda’s Bossa”, jazzed up with improvisations by Bartz, Pelt, and the pianist Kenny Barron. The latter also takes care of the passionate harmonic passages of “A Thought”, a tune suavely Latinized by the rhythm section.
Distinctly steeped in tradition, Combinations, also brings new blood into the game, allowing Cannon to reveal himself as a composer while materializing his artistic vision with vibrancy.
01 – Every Man Is a King ► 04 – Columbus Circle Stop ► 05 – Amanda’s Bossa