Long after the last note has been swung, the instruments are packed and the bar keep yells "last call for alcohol", a great musician in his mind is reviewing the music of the night. He or she is also evaluating themselves on how well they played the music and how they can play it better the next time around. Often, the listening audience doesn't know what a musician does to keep up their craft even after they're established. Mike is one such musician. He's logged many hours of playing time with artists like Roy Eldridge, Sonny Rollins, Benny Golson and Milt Jackson. From these artists Mike has learned his lessons well. He's not just interested in the technical aspects of music, but also the feeling his music conveys to the listener.
I've had the pleasure of performing and recording with Mike for over 15 years. The man has never played a bad note. The other day I went back and chronologically reviewed his early recordings done for the Criss Cross label. It occurred to me that Mike continues to grow more and more not only as a pianist but as a composer as well. This CD is his sixth musical testament and as usual it is a smoker. There is no room for 'squares' on this date. Mike picked a stellar rhythm team for this swinging occasion.
Peter Washington is the logical extension of master bassist like Milt Hinton, Percy Heath, Israel Crosby, Paul Chambers, Doug Watkins, George Duvivier and Ron carter, He is the #1 on call bassist for all kinds of recording sessions. Just take some time out to listen to his swinging bass lines and imaginative solos, steady time and you'll know why.
Mickey Roker is one of the greatest percussionists on the planet today. He has played and recorded with Gigi Gryce, Mary Lou Williams, Stanley Turrentine just to name a few. I first got hip to Mickey when my parents took me to a concert to see the Milt Jackson Quintet which Mickey was a part of. From that point on I've managed to pick up almost every record that Mickey has recorded. Over the years, he has been a constant inspiration to me. These guys play together like a precision time piece.
"Encounter" is Mike's outlook on the changes of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale". Mike starts the Latin bass line before Peter doubles it on bass. The melody works perfectly with the bass line like a hand in glove. Dig how Mike uses the same rhythmic motif during the A sections to make up a nice melody. This once again proves that music doesn't have to be complex to really say something. The first chorus of Mike's solo follows the form of the melody before breaking into pure unadulterated swing in the next chorus. I've always admired how Mike could cook up fresh melodic solos. At the same time he has a very personal approach to rhythm and is not a sixteenth note machine gun spitting out notes in succession at this rather fast tempo. Check out Mike's clever musical quotes of Gene Krupa's "Drum Boogie" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Wheatleigh Hall" near the end of the first solo chorus. Wash plays a beautiful solo here. There are very few bassists around who can play clean solos at this tempo without relying on special effects. Mickey has the last bridge before the return to the melody.
"To Each His Own" is the titled tune of the CD not to be confused with the hit tune of the 40's. This is another one of Mike's compositions. While it's not blues, its got that blues feeling. The mood and feeling reflect the title. You do your own thing and I'll do mine. This is the kind of piece that Mickey excels in. It is not easy to play this kind of tempo. Listen to how he puts the beat smack dab in the middle. Mickey is also a master of dynamics. He starts out on the high hat during Mike's solo for a couple of choruses before switching to the ride cymbal and building the intensity. Mike takes a marvelous solo here. At the beginning of the third chorus it sounded like he dropped in on one of those store front sanctified churches uptown. Soulful!!
Guitar legend Wes Montgomery wrote and recorded "Movin' Along" back in 1960 for Riverside records. To my knowledge, this is the only other version of this tune. The tempo here is much brighter than the original and it makes a world of difference in the way the tune feels. It's basically a twelve bar blues with a few altered changes that occur during bars 9 and 10 of the melody and the first two\ choruses of the solos. In seven choruses Mike takes us through the whole history of jazz piano from barrelhouse to sophisticated funkiness with some be-bop on the side in his own swingin' way. Peter and Mickey play so well together. Take note of how well they shift musical gears with Mike. This is only their second encounter in the studio. Their first was with pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi but never issued in the U.S.
"The Pharaoh" is another
composition of LeDonne's which is written in 3/4 time. It has a near
eastern type flavor and the form is very interesting to play on. All three
musicians handle the piece with ease.
Rodgers & Hart's "My Romance" is given a new treatment by the trio complete with an 8 bar intro. Mike states the melody straightforward with class. He composed a shout chorus which is used as part of the harmonic structure to set up each of the soloists. This is one of those Milt Jackson 'in the crack' tempos that are so hard to keep steady. Of course Mike and Mickey are used to these tempos because they are part of Milt's quartet. Peter at different times has played with the same quartet and is equally at home with this kind of groove. If this performance doesn't make you pat your foot, I think you better check your pulse!
"Pretty Little One" is another little known Billy Strayhorn composition. It is here that we get a chance to hear Mike's gorgeous tone and his gift for playing a melody. Once again his creative mind came up with another bass line that fit well with the melody. The groove here is slightly reminiscent of John Coltrane's "Equinox". Critics have unfairly typecast Mike as a blues and be-bop player, but there's more than meets the eye to this master musician. He has absorbed all musical styles and plays them his way.
Many musicians of today sadly turn their noses up at the blues. They have that 'been there done that' attitude about the most basic, most important part of jazz. Truth be told, most of them don't have a clue as to what it's all about. Mike is the complete opposite. He feels that if he hasn't played at least one blues per set he gets nervous. Every recording that he has made under his own name has some blues included. This CD is no exception. "Bleecker Street Theme" was composed by fellow pianist Cedar Walton. The melody is usually played with a 6/8 time feel, but Mike decided to change the groove and have Mickey play a shuffle rhythm during the melody. Wash has the first solo. I love to hear him play the blues. He likes to noodle around with the guitar. Kenny Burrell, Oscar and Johnny Moore are some of his favorite blues guitarists. Their influences are evident throughout this solo. Peter walks during his last chorus. Pay close attention to his choice of notes and how Mike comps behind him. LeDonne takes six choruses that show us that he is thoroughly acquainted with the blues. The trio then plays the classic shout chorus from "Splanky" the Neal Hefti wrote for the Count Basie Orchestra before the melody returns. Enough can not be said about Mickey Roker on this track and throughout the recording. He epitomizes what taste and swing are all about. He doesn't play the drums he caresses them.
Once again Mike has come out with another top notch recording with something old, new and always the blues. Sit back and relax and as the group Kool and the Gang would say "Let the Music Take Your Mind."
Kenny Washington - The Jazz