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Gerald Cannon: Combinations (Woodneck)

Britt Robson's review of album by versatile bassist

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Cover of Gerald Cannon album Combinations
Cover of Gerald Cannon album Combinations

The title of bassist Gerald Cannon’s first disc since 2004 takes note of the fact that none of the 11 songs—five of them Cannon originals—feature the same configuration of musicians. But this is no hodgepodge. Ten cohorts who had previously shared a bandstand with the bassist convened over a two-day period to knock out material specifically tailored to their talents.

Cannon has made a mosaic out of guest stars and personal tributes. An original composition for his late mother, “Amanda’s Bossa,” features the creamy unison horns of alto saxophonist Sherman Irby and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt presaging the elegant Kenny Barron on piano. For his late father, Benjamin, a guitarist for a band called the Gospel Expressions, Cannon duets with guitarist Russell Malone on the spiritual “How Great Thou Art.” Alto saxophonist Steve Slagle’s lone appearance has him kicking off Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” with a honey-dripping solo. When he wants to wring a mix of postbop and R&B that alto player Gary Bartz is especially suited for, he plucks Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun for his single contribution on “Gary’s Tune.”

But the unsung heroes on Combinations are the members of Cannon’s working trio, pianist Rick Germanson and drummer (and co-producer) Willie Jones III, who help him comprise the core ensemble on five songs. They provide continuity and hone the sophisticated postbop that has been Cannon’s métier through time with the Jazz Messengers, Roy Hargrove, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. They navigate the intricate rhythms of Cannon’s brightly toned original “Columbus Circle Stop,” and are on board for the two cuts Cannon selects from the 1977 Sam Jones album Something in Common. The first, Slide Hampton’s “Every Man Is a King,” opens Combinations and leads with Cannon evoking Mingus through a solo of stubby, jabbing notes that crystallize into melody and christen a parade of solos from Pelt, Bartz and Germanson. On the second, “One for Amos,” by Jones, Cannon seizes the spotlight to deliver the sort of yeoman, woody lyricism associated with the bassist-composer. That and the closer, a five-minute solo version of “Darn That Dream,” shows that after 13 years between discs, Cannon wasn’t going to deny himself the heightened exposure he clearly merits.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Combinations by Gerald Cannon on iTunes.

Originally Published