George Cables: I’m All Smiles (HighNote)

A review of the pianist's album featuring Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis

George Cables, I'm All Smiles
The cover of I’m All Smiles by George Cables

What a joy it is to find George Cables recording again following a series of potentially career-ending health issues. Clearly, as the title of this collection of mostly trio performances suggests, the acclaimed pianist couldn’t be happier to reassert his extraordinary talents while reuniting with a pair of longtime, well-matched collaborators: bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis. And the result? Dedicated to devoted fans and countless well-wishers, I’m All Smiles is charged with a sense of renewed vitality and deep gratitude.

That much is obvious from the outset. “Young at Heart,” the first of several pop standards freshened by Cables’ improvisational verve and orchestral colorings, is distinguished by bright chromaticism, a buoyant pulse, a rumbling ostinato, and Essiet’s sleek interlude. Since Cables has always favored rich harmonic designs and a broad range of dynamics, fans will likely find his approach to other imaginatively recast tunes covered here, including pieces by Wayne Shorter (“Speak No Evil”), Jaco Pastorius (“Three Views of a Secret”), and Freddie Hubbard (“Thermo”), similarly reassuring.

A superb accompanist himself, Cables is also in fine company, benefiting from the colorful (and sometimes exquisitely accented) support fashioned by his trio mates. Indeed, with seemingly effortless ease, a remarkable level of trio interplay is sustained throughout this session right up until the album’s final track—a distinctly personalized solo interpretation of “Monk’s Mood.” Surely the arrangement’s playful tagline would have delighted the tune’s composer, but then, there’s no shortage of wit and charm on display here—or reasons to have another listen.

Preview, buy or download I’m All Smiles on Amazon!

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Mike Joyce

A former editor of JazzTimes, Mike Joyce has written extensively on jazz, blues, country, and pop music for The Washington Post, Maryland and Washington, D.C. public television stations, and other outlets.