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George Cables: In Good Company

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George Cables’ title refers first to the pianist-composers he covers-John Hicks, Kenny Barron, Ellington and Strayhorn-and second to his trio with bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis. The album’s a cheery swinger, an exemplar of mainstream piano jazz. In short, the kind of record Cables always makes. But it’s his accompanists, and Victor Lewis in particular, that earn the titular salute.

Essiet records semi-regularly with Cables, and evinces an ability to disappear inside the pianist’s rich left-hand chords and the architecture and tenderness of his touch, as on Hicks’ “After the Morning” and Ellington’s “Love You Madly.” But Lewis has been with Cables for 15 years, and the album’s second track, Cables’ “Mr. Anonymouse,” plainly shows why. A bass ostinato bears down as Cables barrels over it with speedy single-note lines; underneath, Lewis lays out a cymbal-and-kick locomotion that’s preternaturally steady. If the pianist is a runaway train, the drummer lays down tracks for it in real time.

Lewis’ fingerprints are everywhere on In Good Company. His frequent accents shape Cables’ “EVC” almost singlehandedly, and the upshot of rendering Strayhorn’s poignant “Lotus Blossom” midtempo is to establish the ride cymbal as a playful foundation for Cables’ improvisation. (It also gives Essiet a chance to shoot the breeze.) Lewis gets his own snappy solos on “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and Kenny Barron’s “Voyage,” and space for his brushwork on “Lush Life” and “Day Dream.”

The pianist shouldn’t get short shrift; his lithe but thoughtful fingerings uplift every corner of In Good Company, and provide occasional surprises like the Monk-esque glissandi on “Lotus Blossom” and subtle syncopation breakdowns on “Naima’s Love Song.” Lewis simply shows himself to be Cables’ equal-surely the best of company.

Originally Published