Frank Morgan/George Cables: Montreal Memories (HighNote)

Review of a live duo album by the saxophonist and pianist, recorded in 1989

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Cover of Frank Morgan/George Cables album Montreal Memories

The late altoist Frank Morgan performed together frequently with pianist George Cables; evidence of that includes studio recordings of duets in 1986 (Double Image) and 1989 (half of Mood Indigo), as well as three separate live discs culled from an extended quartet engagement at New York’s Jazz Standard alongside drummer Billy Hart and bassist Carmen Lundy in November 2003. But Montreal Memories, from a July 1989 gig in that Canadian city, is to date the lone album devoted to their live duets: a reliably rewarding and intimately revealing document of their mutual gratitude for the bop tradition and the longstanding love of a good woman.

Three Charlie Parker compositions—“Now’s the Time,” “Confirmation,” and “Billie’s Bounce” (the latter in a contrasting medley with Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti”)—open, close, and land smack-dab in the middle of the nine offerings here. Dubbed a Bird protégé before he infamously crashed and burned his way into a 30-year prison-related hiatus, Morgan revels in his mature take on the legacy, mixing Bird’s lightning-quick flutter-and-dip with plangent punctuation and joining Cables on forceful postbop variations.

Morgan, who died in 2007, also invokes Bird via a nod to “Parker’s Mood” in his opening to “Blues for Rosalinda,” a tune for his ex-wife, the artist Rosalinda Kolb. That leads to a pair of paeans Cables penned for his late wife, Helen Wray, “Helen’s Song” and “Lullaby.” The entire triptych is a tonic for the duo’s wry and wistful creative exchanges rather than a sentimental wallow, emphasizing Morgan’s evocative usage of the lower, more dulcet side of the alto and the remarkable range, both sonically and emotionally, of Cables’ caress of the ivories.