This album features some of the best musicians in the world of Jazz. Neal Smith, a New York drummer in his mid-30s who leads this fine group at Smalls (NYC) to record four sets of music over two nights for this live album. At the core of the band is the trio of Mr. Smith on drums, Dezron Douglas on bass and Mulgrew Miller, a wise elder, on piano. And then there are satellite elements, rotating in and out of the sets: the saxophonists Steve Wilson and Eric Alexander and guitarist Mark Whitfield. Mr. Smith, calling the tunes, plays no-nonsense post-bop rhythm, the hard center of jazz since the late 1950s. And he barely called attention to himself.
Mr. Miller, usually performs as a bandleader, is a peaceable kingdom: unpretentious Southern serenity, hovering around the middle of the keyboard. Between Mr. Whitfield’s effortful, gestural guitar improvisations, which reliably wound up in chords and octaves, and Mr. Alexander’s period-perfect early-1960s solos are furious.
Douglas and Mr. Smith keep the swing strong and clear: staying constant on the ride cymbal in the manner of older drummers like Louis Hayes, working little variations on laid-back snare-drum fills. He isn't pushing an agenda about conserving an art form — there is no preciousness or anxiety in the music — but this recording makes you feel that jazz as a traditional language is safe and sound.
01. The Cup Bearers 14:0402. Junior 8:20
03. What A Friend we Have In Jesus 14:58
04. With Mallice Toward None 12:16
05. A Portrait of You 14:02
06. Stew Peas 8:19
07. Fifty-Six 7:55
Recorded Aug 23-24, 2009 live at SMALLS JAZZ CLUB, GREENWICH VILLAGE, NYC.
Neal Smith Drums
Steve Wilson Alto/Soprano Sax
Eric Alexander Tenor Sax
Mark Whitfield Guitar
Mulgrew Miller Piano
Dezron Douglas Bass
Live at Smalls
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