George Coleman: Live at Smalls Jazz Club
Release date: May 19, 2023
Label: Cellar Music Group
George Coleman Live at Smalls Jazz Club finds the Memphis-native saxophone titan in top form at a sold-out performance at the renowned Smalls Jazz Club. While Coleman is perhaps most widely known for his early beginnings with blues luminaries such as B.B. King and Ray Charles, and his seminal work alongside Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in the 60’s, Coleman has remained a vital, unstoppable force on the frontline of jazz throughout the duration of his 7-decade long career. George Coleman Live at Smalls Jazz Club celebrates Coleman’s stellar contributions to the jazz pantheon. The saxophonist delivers a set of masterful reworkings of jazz standards alongside the stellar rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington, drummer Joe Farnsworth and pianist, Smalls Jazz Club owner and SmallsLive Foundation president Spike Wilner.
2022 marked Coleman’s 70th year as a professional musician, which brought about gigs at Dizzy’s, The Side Door, The Village Vanguard and finished with a gig at the Caramoor Jazz Fest celebrating his 87th birthday. Drummer Joe Farnsworth notes “[George Coleman Live at Smalls is] one of George Coleman’s best record dates ever. When two or more people get together that love music as much as George and Spike do, love will be the result.”
Speaking to the synergy of the quartet, Coleman notes “Things just fall into place there with Spike on piano. It’s all about the feeling. The support I get from him, Pete and yourself – the energy I get from the crowd. It’s a feeling, and the Quartet is able to connect things there. It’s all about connection and how you make it. It’s got to be smooth. This quartet allows me to do that.”
George Coleman Live at Smalls Jazz Club takes listeners on a journey throughout Coleman’s illustrious career, the opening track transports us back to Coleman’s days with Miles Davis’ famed “Second quintet” with an inspired arrangement of Davis’ “Four”. Coleman leads the group through a rubato rendition of the melody before cuing the familiar up-tempo swing and setting forth on a tremendous solo, demonstrating the fact that his rich melodic vocabulary and incredible facility on his instrument has only improved throughout the past 7 decades. The group continues with a mid-tempo exploration of the classic “At Last”. On Coleman’s statement of the melody and moments of improvisation, the artist displays the most soulful side of his iconic sound, weaving threads of his early days as a blues saxophonist thoughtfully with his bebop and hardbop refrains. Coleman states “Ever since the blues days I’m always reaching, I want to be different – knowledge accumulated through playing all these years. I hope to be able to tell a complete story that our fans will enjoy. Time brings improvement!”
Farnsworth notes that Coleman’s rendition of “My Funny Valentine” brought chills over everyone in the room, calling it the “best rendition ever!” Other highlights from the evening included the artist’s take on the classic “The Nearness of You”, Coleman notes “I love playing ballads, it’s where all those years of living pay off – and I got a few years under my belt. People love hearing the old stuff. The proof is in the response we get from the fans.” Coleman delivers a rousing performance of the Sinatra classic “New York, New York”, putting his own masterful spin on the timeless classic. The album concludes with a moving take on “When Sunny Gets Blue”, featuring beautifully evocative solos from Coleman and Wilner.
Coleman espouses “This record is a tribute to our great city and all of our great fans. Whether you live here or just visit for the music, you are a New Yorker. We play for the people. I have been playing for great fans forever at clubs like Slugs, Boomers, the Tin Palace with Philly Joe and Barry Harris, Village Vanguard, Dizzy’s, Smoke and now Smalls.”