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03/23/14

George Cables
Icons and Influences
HighNote Records

Icons and Influences’ title makes clear what takes place within: George Cables honoring those who shaped him. Some, of course, were fellow pianists: “Cedar Walton” is the name of the leadoff track and it’s followed by “Farewell Mulgrew.” Duke Ellington, Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck also receive nods. But Cables, whose multi-decade career has been evenly divided between leader and sideman gigs, also owes to hornmen. “Nature Boy,” the Eden Ahbez standard, may have been a signature hit for Nat King Cole, but it’s Coltrane’s mid-’60s arrangement to which Cables tips his hat here. Joe Henderson’s “Isotope” and Benny Golson’s “Blue Heart” are other strong inclusions.

But saying thanks is one thing; bringing something new to a tune is another, and in that regard Cables succeeds throughout. Joined by bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Victor Lewis, Cables is savvy enough to retain core melodies while departing from familiar arrangements. The Brubeck number, “The Duke,” is given a bluesy patina, Cables’ choppy block chords only occasionally broken by a brief if sparkling solo, and “Little B’s Poem,” a Bobby Hutcherson composition featured on the vibraphonist’s 1965 Components, bustles in Cables’ hands. “Mo’ Pan,” perhaps the most unexpected entry, comes from calypso godfather Lord Kitchener and provides the album’s brawniest beat.

Most of Icons and Influences is fairly straightforward in its intent, though. The back-to-back Walton and Mulgrew Miller tributes, both penned by Cables, capture their subjects’ essence while steering clear of their trademarks, and “Come Sunday,” the Ellington track that may be the album’s most sublime, pays equal tribute to Cables’ ingenuity and its composer’s. Which is kind of the idea.

Originally published in March 2014
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