Even though the best-sounding jazz recordings are made in studios, most people’s favorite jazz albums were made live in clubs or concert halls. Jazz recorded in a studio is to jazz recorded live as animals in a zoo are to animals in their wild natural habitat.
FiveLive could not have happened in a studio. Someone would have tried to make it prove a point, or cleaned it up. FiveLive was recorded in October 2007 in a little joint on north Broadway called Smoke. It is not so much a record as a vicarious night out in Manhattan: a night of raw, real, hard, fast, high-caliber New York jazz.
Proven urban warriors like tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth are in the band. Leader Mike LeDonne writes strong tunes to blow on, takes fierce, careening piano solos, and kicks ass when he comps.
Alexander explodes out of the 6 of “Manteca” into straight 4 and wails. Pelt spits fire on “Encounter.” But LeDonne is in charge. With just the rhythm section, he freely reimagines “I Got It Bad” and suddenly sobers everybody up and turns the party mood in Smoke all pensive.