Richard Kamins, Step Tempest
Every once is a while, the reviewer receives an album that wins you over initially on the strength of the joy that the musicians exude.  Such is the case with the debut recording by drummer, composer, and arranger Henry Conway III.  “With Pride For Dignity” (self-released) finds the Detroit, MI native leading a trio that features Kenny Banks Jr. (piano) and Kevin Smith (drums).  It’s a cooperative ensemble with all three musicians contributing arrangements and/or songs. Listening to the opening track “Slippery” (composed by Ray Brown and arranged by bassist Smith), the first impressions I had after “how delightful” was how much the overall blues feel sounded like the musical approach of Phineas Newborn Jr. and what a lyrical bassist Smith is.  The leader does not impose his will on any song but you cannot miss his presence.  The title track (composed by Banks Jr.) is an episodic journey that, at times, feels like the history of jazz going into your ears. Note how the tempo changes happen on a dime, how the music swings with power, and all three musicians are tuned in to each other.

Photo: Adrian H. Tillman

The trio pays tribute to composer/musicians such as Duke Ellington (“Cottontail“), Jimmy Heath (“Gingerbread Boy“), Detroit native, and mentor to the drummer, Marcus Printup (“Hopscotch“), and the afore-mentioned Phineas Newborn Jr. (“Sugar Ray“).  Each on of the tunes shines on the power of its melody and the reinvention of a modern ensemble.  Both the Printup and Newborn Jr. songs are “deep blues” with the former having an irresistible rhythm as well as the hint of “rent party” piano while the latter has such a jaunty feel with Banks Jr. digging into his solo over the walking bass lines and the “easy” beats from the drummer. “Cottontail” speeds forward on the power of the brilliant brushes work and an inventive bass line (here’s where the listener detects the Ray Brown influence on Smith).  The leader starts on supplying the rhythm of “Gingerbread Boy” aided and abetted by the bassist and the pianist’s left hand.  Once Conerway III switches to his sticks, the trio is off on a romp.

The pianist’s “The Feel Goods” and the drummer’s “Carvin’s Agreement” closes the proceedings; the former is a delightful medium-tempo blues and the latter a solo drum piece.  Even though there are no ballads on the program, neither does that lack bother this reviewer.  At this time of such negativity in the U.S. and elsewhere, the brightness of this music, the obvious joy of the musicians as they move through the songs, the promise of more-to-come, is a breath of fresh air. Plus, this album reminds you of the power that the blues has to settle one’s mind and to assure you we’re all on this trip together.  Kudos to Henry Conerway III and his trio!

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