George Cables: The George Cables Songbook

Even pianist George Cables’ most devoted followers are apt to be surprised by this collection of original compositions-not so much by the quality of the writing, as Cables’ credentials are unassailable, but by the freshness, appeal and promise heard in this new collaboration with singer and lyricist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. In Charles, Cables has found a musical soulmate who is profoundly attuned to his repertoire and playing.

Six of the album’s selections feature the New York City-based Charles on vocals, and save for “Think on Me” (words by Janice Jarrett), she contributes lyrics to each, beginning with a rhythmically fitful, melodically skittish performance of “The Dark the Light,” based on “Dark Side, Light Side.” The breadth of Cables’ output over the years inspires a colorful variety of moods, and though Charles always rises to the challenge, nothing is quite as engaging as her take on “For Honey Lulu,” or as tenderly enhanced by her gifts as the closing performance of “Suite for Sweet Rita.”

But Songbook could be recommended on the strength of the remaining performances alone, thanks in large part to bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis, a superb rhythm union that has served Cables well in the past. Saxophonist Craig Handy and percussionist Steve Kroon also play key roles, adding to the album’s abundant pleasures; not least of these is “Melodious Funk,” Cables’ whimsically animated salute to a fellow jazz master.