(Smalls)

Recorded February 19th and 20th, 2010

The Jimmy Greene Quartet features musicians who have been heralded by Down Beat and Jazz Times alike.  On Live At Smalls, they primarily focus on original tunes written by Greene.  The lone exception is the cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty.” It’s a great reference point to the mood of the song bouncing between laidback components, especially Xavier Davis’ piano work and the laidback approach by Ugonna Okegwo on bass.  Greene lends more sass to the tune with moments of scale running.  By doing so, it creates a dissonant but wholly listenable effect.

That dissonance is even more noticeable on “Sense Of Urgency” as it bounces with odd chords and a swinging rhythm on drums.  Oftentimes it will progress in the speed at which the group plays all the while playing with dynamics to create a staggering effect.  All in all, it’s a fantastic way to prime the crowd, both live and through your favorite media player, to set the stage.  Even the drummer gets some on a nasty set of fills demonstrating dizzying speed and aural presentation.

Each song on the six-track disc is a full plate, with the shortest work clocking in at a 7:03.  Furthermore, the recording of this live set is pristine.  You can nearly hear the hammers of Davis’ piano strike the strings.  Greene’s tenor drips with liveliness.  Perhaps most importantly is that Greg Hutchinson’s drum kit is mic’d perfectly so as to still be omnipresent for keeping beat but not overpowering as to drown out the other members of the ensemble.

“Bloomfield” rollicks at the 0:45 second mark.  The cast picks up the pace to create a danceable track, most notably by Okegowo’s quick fingers.  They provide a pluckiness that create a sense of rhythmic arousal aimed to keep your toes tapping.  Meanwhile Greene’s saxophone is heavily prevalent.  Whereas in “Soul Music” he takes a backseat periodically to create space, he is everywhere on “Bloomfield.”  When he finally hands over the reigns to Davis to take the lead, it’s not before a huge ovation from the Greenwich Village crowd.

What Greene and the group should be most proud of on Live At Smalls is not just moving the crowd.  It’s that they did it by staying away from formulaic staples.  In performing new, and lesser-proven material, they evoke the true spirit of jazz by being creative and original.  By penning their own tunes, it provides the listener the opportunity to focus on the music and the mood without thinking about the way someone else might have played it in the past.  True to self and true to jazz.  It’s a winning combination.

Be sure to check out the Smalls Live Website where you can hear one-minute snippets of all the tracks on the album as well as purchase this album and many others from the label.

Words by Eric Luecking

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