Just Play!
Tom Kennedy

Bassist Tom Kennedy assembled an impressive group for his fourth CD as a leader, including tenor saxophonist George Garzone, trumpeter Tim Hagans, guitarists Mike Stern and Lee Ritenour, pianist Renee Rosnes, and drummer Dave Weckl. Kennedy has achieved his stature as a top-flight bassist through his work over the years with, among many others, Bill Connors, Steps Ahead with Michael Brecker, Tania Maria, Al DiMeola, and Weckl's band for nine years. The idea for this session was, as the title suggests, to "just play" without restrictive arrangements or other formal guidelines, and this freedom led these musicians to perform at their very best on mostly standards and jazz classics. "I wanted the heads to say something different than they normally do," Kennedy told Bill Milkowski for the liner notes, "but I didn't want the soloing to be tripped up by making the forms overly complicated or by changing things around harmonically to the point where you had to get used to playing over the thing." Kennedy also dedicated this recording to his brother, pianist Ray Kennedy, who has been unable to play since contracting multiple sclerosis in 2008.

Weckl's African-tinged intro and Garzone's stop-and-start theme reading of Sonny Rollins' "Airegin," which makes room for the drummer's interjections, gets the CD off to a running start. Rosnes' exuberant up-tempo solo attacks the changes with assured facility, and Garzone follows in his distinctive post bop style, utiizing rhythmic and tonal alterations in a constructive manner. Kennedy's improv is notable for its woody, resonant tone and powerful thrust. Weckl's vigorous trades with Garzone and Rosnes precede the forthright reprise. For Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'," Garzone and Ritenour share the righteous theme, with Kennedy digging deep down for the spirited first solo. Garzone shows his blues acumen in his wailing, yet precise statement, as does Ritenour with a multifaceted flight that is technically and emotionally satisfying.

Kennedy adds Hagans, trombonist John Allred, and tenor saxophonist Steve Wirts to the front line for the exciting arrangement of "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," which features an intense, undulating Hagans solo, Allred's buoyantly appealing turn, and Garzone's take-no-prisoners exploration, typically with overtones and slurs galore. Rosnes solos as well with sparkling aplomb, and Kennedy sums it all up in mesmerizing, thematic fashion. Lee Morgan's wistful "Ceora" is charmingly delivered by Garzone, succeeded by the finely wrought Rosnes. The tenor saxophonist responds in kind, subtly enhancing the melody. Kennedy caps the improvisations movingly, and his sensitive bass lines throughout the track, in tandem with Weckl's impeccable brush work, help to elevate this version to the level of Morgan's 1965 original.

Stern and Garzone play the guitarist's jaunty, syncopated "One Liners" theme, with Weckl's lively drums adding to the fire. It's during Stern's riveting, breakneck solo that the tune's indebtedness to the changes of "Softly As In a Morning's Sunrise" really becomes apparent. Assertions by Garzone, Rosnes, Kennedy, and finally Weckl in exchanges with the others, keep this selection at a relentlessly unbridled level. Garzone handles "In a Sentimental Mood" with the same inviting warmth he displayed on "Ceora," with Rosnes tenderly visiting the bridge. The saxophonist's solo is a bit edgier and penetrating this time, as he evokes John Coltrane's harmonic inclinations to a large extent. Kennedy's improv is profoundly communicative, while Rosnes' gliding, effervescent creation is highly appealing.

Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" is launched by Kennedy's evocation of the tune's irresistible bass ostinato, before Garzone's urgent trip through the familiar theme, again with Weckl's reliably firm support. Garzone's absorbing solo darts and swerves over and around the inspiring chord structure, in command for all its extended duration. Rosnes' declarative spot combines prancing runs with powerful note clusters, while Kennedy's is an example of how he can both utilize and subsume his ample technique to build a lucid and stirring narrative. The leader then returns to the opening ostinato to frame Weckl's slashing, pugnacious workout. "In Your Own Sweet Way" is a trio feature for Rosnes, whose arrangement subtly alters the chord changes, personalizing the melody and her solo in refreshing ways while still preserving the original flavor of Dave Brubeck's gem. Kennedy's lyrically rich, enthralling invention ensues, and Weckl is tastefully in the moment throughout the track.

"What is this Thing Called Love" finds Weckl and Kennedy establishing a compelling Afro-Cuban rhythm over which Garzone slowly unfurls the theme. Weckl's cymbal splashes propel Garzone into a solo that bristles with harmonic inventiveness, until he gives way to Kennedy's equally propulsive ruminations. The drummer's uninhibited dialogue with Garzone, and the high speed reprise, bring closure to this number and the CD as a whole, both equally memorable.

1 Comment

  • Sep 28, 2013 at 02:35PM dloeb123

    An absolutely fantastic CD!

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Scott Albin