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June 2008

John Beasley
Letter to Herbie
Resonance Records

During the current meltdown of the recording industry as we have known it, a new jazz label is going to get attention—especially when there are rumors of deep pockets. Resonance, based in Los Angeles, is the recording division of a new nonprofit foundation, Rising Jazz Stars. According to founder and president George Klabin, its mission is to record “the very cream of the talent crop … to capture brilliant, passionate magical moments.”

Given these lofty goals, the first Resonance release, Letter to Herbie, is puzzling. The rhythm section of Christian McBride and “Tain” Watts is smart and authoritative, and guest Roy Hargrove plays well on several tunes, but these three are responsible for the only moments here approaching magic. Leader John Beasley is a pianist with a large, eclectic studio résumé. He has facility and enthusiasm and a musical methodology assembled from licks and runs and gestures in the public domain. In this album of tunes by or about Herbie Hancock, everything Beasley plays is pleasant and deeply predictable, whether straight hard acoustic piano trio jazz like “4 A.M.” or twinkly light fusion like “Vein Melter” or heavier funk like “The Naked Camera.”

The best piece is “Bedtime Voyage,” a clever blend of “Maiden Voyage” and “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.” Hargrove and flutist Steve Tavaglione climb up together and build genuine intensity until an anticlimactic fast fade.

Originally published in June 2008
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