CD review

George Cables (with Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis) – I’m All Smiles

George Cables (with Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis) – I’m All Smiles
(HighNote Records HCD 7322. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)

It is probably wrong to be completely swayed by the positive spirit of a musician you’ve met. But it’s also hard not to be. And with a pianist who gleams and inspires like George Cables, impossible.

I met and interviewed George Cables in 2017. We published the conversation as a podcast and his charm and spirit shine through. I note that Ethan Iverson’s interview with him is vast, and from the number of times the transcription of the interview contains the occurrence “EI: [Laughs]”, one has to suspect that it was Iverson didn’t only interview George Cables’ at such length because of his significance as a bearer of the tradition, but also because he enjoyed it as well.

Cables had a particularly tough start to 2018. Recurrent ulcers on both legs left him in a state where he needed amputation of the left leg above the knee. The appeal to support him evoked a major response from the jazz community, and the new album, recorded in October 2018, is as Cables says, “a thank you letter and dedicated to all those people that sent gifts and messages of support and encouragement during the time I was dealing with serious medical issues and unable to play the piano or make gigs”.

The album is with his regular trio members bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis. The titles of the first two tracks (Young at Heart and I’m All Smiles are certainly there to give a message that the pianist is indeed happy to be back in business. And for those seeking reassurance that he can still play with the same disarming beauty of expression, spaciousness and clarity of intent, then track six, Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, will dispel all doubts.

Only one of the tunes, Celebration, is an original, but in the other nine he has a particular way of adding what the sleeve note calls “chordal intrigue” to make them his own. The gospelly 4/4 introduction to Jaco Pastorius’ Three Views of a Secret (the tune, when it comes, is in 3) is a delight in itself. Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil has all kinds of rhythmic displacement and devilment but somehow stays rooted in the loping 4/4 of the original. Besame Mucho is the kind of tune that has blagged its way into far too many parties, but with a menacing bass riff (Cables and Essiet in lock-step), crisp brush-work from Lewis and all kinds of contrapuntal wizardry and charm, it for once becomes a very welcome guest here.

It’s great to hear “Mr. Beautiful” is playing as well and as inventively as ever.

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