My only other exposure to Mike LeDonne’s work was his previous album on Savant, Night Song. It was a civilized, likable, middle-of-the-road piano trio date.
It turns out that LeDonne has another persona: a not-so-civilized, sometimes downright nasty, even more likable exponent of the Hammond B3. For the last six years, LeDonne’s organ quartet has appeared every Tuesday at Smoke, on 106th and Broadway in Manhattan. On Fire is from two of those nights in May 2006.
LeDonne’s band contains some of the most in-demand mainstream players in New York (Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein, Joe Farns-worth), and sounds utterly relaxed at all tempos. This album has a groove so seductive that, if the players were not so strong, it could serve as sheer sensual indulgence and escapism. But Alexander is a model of communicative clarity, in his clean tenor saxophone sound and in the persuasive logic of his original ideas. Bernstein is a guitar version of similar virtues. It is possible that the two have not made more complete, more eloquent recorded statements than their respective solos on Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments.”
LeDonne’s trio feature, Cole Porter’s “At Long Last Love,” displays the range and musicality of the B3 in the right hands: mostly funky and bubbly, also flowing, then lurching straight up to keening crescendos.