CD Review: George Cables – My Muse

George Cables – My Muse
(HighNote HCD7244. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This album is a very personal expression of love – and of loss. Pianist George Cables has dedicated his 2012 CD My Muse, with bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis, to his Australian-born “partner and soulmate of 28 years, Helen Wray”, who died after a battle against pancreatic cancer in November 2010. 

Cables has chosen  standards whose “titles”, he writes “seem to speak for themselves” such as My Old Flame, You’re My Everything , You Taught My Heart To Sing. That sense of dedication, of homage also pervades three of the four originals by Cables, which are dedicated to Helen Wray.

The first knowledge I had of this abum was seeing it constantly riding high in the American airplay charts last year. And the first observation on hearing it was that it contains moments of astonishing beauty. After all, George Cables was nicknamed by Art Pepper “Mr Beautiful”. The final track, I loves You Porgy, played solo is quite simply the perfect take. The pace is measured, calm, but the inner voices answer each other creating depth, wholeness; and Cables’ touch is perfection.

 Further listening, however, has started to set that last piece of total perfection into its context. The more I’ve gone back and listened to the ten preceding tracks of this album, the more I sense planning, organic development, symmetry. It is one of those albums where the deeper you dig, the more subtlety and forethought there appears to be.

Take those symmetries. The opener is a solo piano piece, just like the closer Porgy. You  enter and then take you leave of this realm via quiet havens of reflection. Proceeding from the edges to the next tracks in, (tracks 2 and 10),  each has the same feature: the tune is marched in at the beginning, and led out at the end by a four bar intro /outro /montuno, which is used in shorter form to mark the boundaries between solos. That device is only used on those two tracks.

Cables compositions have real character.  My Muse is jauntily reminiscent of Neal Hefti’s Odd Couple theme. Cables writes that he wants it to convey Helen Wray’s “playful and mischievous sense of humour.”

Cables reproduces the Sammy Cahn lyrics to You Taught My Heart to Sing in the liner notes ,and recalls that Dexter Gordon – another bandleader who was a fervent admirer of Cables’ playing – recited lyricsto an audience before a performance. This tune is clearly one which Cables has lived in. He plays it with two tonal centres of Bb and Db – rather than the Ab in which composer McCoy Tyner perfomed it. My One and only love is alive with inner voices and countermelodies, and clever departure into Polka Dots and Moonbeams.

Cables does extraordinary sleights of hand in My Old Flame.The lyric is ‘I can’t even think of his/ her name’. But Cables only ever suggests and never fully lands on the first note of the fourth bar, as if the syllable ‘name’ is never to be mentioned, but to be passed over in silence. It’s poignant, thought-provoking.

Drummer Victor Lewis is impeccable throughout, bassist Essiet Essiet is sometimes recorded to my ears slightly back, so the listener gets bass colour rather than a firm bass line. That quibble apart, the interplay between the three has infinite variety – joyful, collaborative, transcendent music-making.    

I sense, I know, that there is a lot more buried and to be discovered in this album, which clearly comes straight from the heart. I shall be going back to it often, and always with pleasure.

Categories: miscellaneous

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