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Lonnie Plaxico: Rhythm and Soul

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Lonnie Plaxico is a tremendous bassist and session man. His eighth album as a leader spotlights his brilliance in several areas, from gently, yet substantially backing vocalists to working both alone and with large combos. Plaxico uses Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” as a set piece to demonstrate his impressive solo bass facility, delivering a stunning melodic embellishment, then a dazzling improvisation working off it. On “‘Tis So Sweet,” a traditional gospel tune, he smoothly glides underneath vocalist Aneilia Lomax and pianist Arene Lomax, punctuating and extending their leads while turning the song into a majestic concluding work.

The disc’s small-group pieces tend to be either intimate ballads, such as the poignant cover of “Don’t Explain” or “I’ll Wait and Pray,” where the unison interaction between Plaxico, pianist/organist George Colligan and drummer Billy Kilson is augmented by careful, intense playing from either trumpeter Jeremy Pelt or tenor/soprano saxophonist Marcus Strickland. The edgier, looser pieces feature bigger units, mainly sextets, on “The Time,” “Weather Report” and “Slow Dance,” but most notably the first-rate octet number “Always Crazy.” Rather than simply churning out another hard blowing piece, Plaxico reserves solos for Pelt and Strickland, getting fiery, expressive and disciplined statements from them, and strong complementary efforts from everyone else. Though the sextet tunes, particularly “Weather Report,” are crisply played, they’re not quite as explosive or memorable as “Always Crazy,” which stands as the best number on a very good record.