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December 2007

Gil Coggins
Better Late Than Never
Smalls

Growing up in Harlem with Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean, Gil Coggins is known mostly, if at all, for his appearance on one of Miles Davis’ Blue Note sessions. The pianist later went into real estate, recorded one album as a leader in 1990 and died in a car accident in 2004—not that this album’s bio mentions the latter factoid. Better Late Than Never collects two trio sessions from 2001 and 2002, and they beg the question of where he would be today had he stuck with the less lucrative field. Rather than simply evoking a bygone era, Coggins makes you think that Blue Note albums with the deep groove and Lexington Avenue address can still be found at the local record shop. His is a music in which funk is implied by the way the left hand voices a chord, not by the rhythm section’s vicious groove. The left hand might not always think independently of the right, but that’s not a bad thing when it contributes to the overall harmony. Bassist Mike Fitzbenjamin and drummers Jimmy Wormworth or Louis Hayes provide basic but strong accompaniment on a set of standards, obscure Miles and Mingus (“Vierd Blues” and “Smooch,” respectively) and Burt Bacharach’s “A House is Not a Home.” Though he consistently plays mid-tempo, Coggins keeps things interesting with his deft use of space and melody. The title might be cliché, but it’s right on the mark, too.

Originally published in December 2007
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