CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Eddie Henderson – Be Cool

Eddie Henderson – Be Cool
(Smoke Sessions SSR-1802. Review by Peter Vacher)

The veteran US trumpeter Eddie Henderson is a familiar presence on local bandstands these days whether with various versions of the Mingus Big Band and The Cookers or in groups put together by the drummer Stephen Keogh. At 77, he plays with the kind of spirited assurance and zest that makes you think of mid-period Miles or Woody Shaw. He clearly enjoys the company of fellow front-rank modernists, epitomised here by pianist Kenny Barron and altoist Donald Harrison, the latter a bandmate in The Cookers.

This new quintet session works through a series of originals by other practitioners spiced by a coupled of standards and pieces by Henderson’s wife, Natsuko Henderson and daughter Cava Menzies. The mode employed is best described as Silver-style hard bop and it is Barron’s jaunty Smoke Screen which opens the album, its recurrent motif calling for a fervent response which Harrison duly provides, albeit without any particular direction. Henderson follows in zippy fashion, all brilliant tone and controlled attack, ahead of Barron’s stomping piano.

The title track is by Natsuko, and has a pleasing trumpet-led mid-tempo groove, Henderson favouring his lower register before extending his line, sometimes in unexpected harmonic directions, over Essiet Essiet’s propulsive beat and Mike Clark’s broken rhythms. On this evidence Harrison is hooked on playing repetitive, sinuous, snaking figures, often losing the thread, in his Adderley-like manner as Barron comes in, lucid and to the point. Blakey’s Messengers would have liked this one.

After You’ve Gone is usually treated as a tear-up; not so here, for Henderson slows the tempo right down, allowing his timing and use of space to recast the melody in subtle ways. As you might expect, Barron’s commentary is ideal while Harrison stays out. Each trumpet note is carefully placed, thoughtful and evocative: a master stroke. Loft Funk is nicely busy, its drum patterns repetitive, Henderson striving, Harrison missing the point.

So, all in all, an album that emphasises Henderson’s many virtues: to be candid I liked him best Harmon-muted on Miles Davis’ Fran Dance and the ballad Easy Living and might have wished for even more but Henderson is not inclined to limit himself, apparently still keen to explore new possibilities. Barron is impeccable throughout, always interesting and never bombastic, Harrison less so.

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