Lonnie_plaxico-melange_span3
April 2002

Lonnie Plaxico
Melange
Blue Note Records

Bassist Lonnie Plaxico has seldom emerged from the rhythm section as a leader during a distinguished two-decades plus career. Although he has made five other albums, he's far better known for his outstanding assistance and accompaniment to musicians ranging from Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon to Art Blakey, Sonny Stitt, Cassandra Wilson and Wynton Marsalis. Plaxico's Blue Note debut is designed to show audiences the bassist's diverse roots while also featuring him headlining disparate units. The song menu includes a cover of the Tower of Power instrumental "Squib Cakes," a gospel-styled piece, "Sunday Morning," and other tunes that tackle Afro-Latin, funk, mainstream and some that even venture outside. Plaxico heads one ensemble featuring trumpeter Lew Soloff and saxophonist Tim Ries, and another with Jeremy Pelt and Marcus Strickland handling brass and reeds. George Colligan and Helen Sung divide keyboard duties, while drummer Lionel Cordew and percussionist Jeffrey Haynes complete the rhythm section with Plaxico.

Unfortunately, the results of this juggling are probably responsible for the session's erratic quality. Ries plays a strong, expressive solo on "Squib Cakes," but otherwise he isn't that exciting. Neither Colligan nor Sung proves a memorable soloist, and the date's patchwork quality carries over to the arrangements. Plaxico and Cordew emerge as the best soloists, though the ensemble sections are more interesting than the solo segments. "Windy City," "Melange" and "Miles II" contain a few good moments, but overall this disc has a lack of energy and intensity on far too many songs.

One pleasant surprise comes from Soloff. He executes some arresting, high-note maneuvers and delivers several excellent phrases on the five tunes he plays on. If everyone else in both groups displayed as much verve and energy, the songs on Melange would be less disposable. Instead, the bassist's strong efforts notwithstanding, this isn't the breakout date Plaxico wanted.

Originally published in April 2002
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