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June 2004

Onaje Allan Gumbs
Return to Form
Half Note Records

A solid mainstream pianist who garnered interest in the '70s with Woody Shaw and Norman Connors, Onaje Allan Gumbs moved into smoother terrain over the next two decades. As the title implies, Return to Form (Half Note) finds him back in the jazz saddle again. On this crisply recorded live session, Gumbs leads a tight-knit trio bolstered here and there by saxophonist Rene McLean as well as by an unobtrusive percussionist. Time spent away from the scene seems to have been a tonic for the pianist; he sounds consistently assured and focused.

On a trio performance of Henry Mancini's "Dreamsville," Gumbs tempers a Tyner-esque conception with deliciously relaxed phrasing, and a double-timed "Daydream" brings zest to the Strayhorn classic. Gumbs reveals his roots on an extended "Equinox" that further evokes Coltrane by interpolating the bass line from "A Love Supreme." It's heartening to hear a veteran returning to the action sounding more evolved and involving than expected.

Originally published in June 2004
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