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Mike LeDonne: Awwlright!

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Fans of vintage soul-jazz organ combos are not only likely to concur with the title of keyboardist Mike LeDonne’s latest release, they may even find the album worthy of an additional exclamation point or two. It’s soulful, Hammond B-3 stuff, all right, from top to bottom and chorus to chorus, with plenty of thoroughly evocative solos spread out between the riffing themes and time-honored resolutions.

Though the after-hours mood is in keeping with LeDonne’s long-running Groover Quartet engagement in Manhattan-at Smoke, on Tuesday nights-this studio session is occasionally enhanced by the knowing input of bassist Bob Cranshaw, on five-string electric, and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. Starting with the LeDonne-penned opener, the album’s title track, it’s clear that the bandleader intends to take full advantage of the expanded lineup, and the same holds true when the sextet robustly reprises “Let It Go,” yet another example of composer Stanley Turrentine’s deep pocket.

Mostly, though, the quartet, featuring versatile drummer Joe Farnsworth, is left to its own considerable devices. The band is in fine, fully resonating form, with LeDonne’s horn-inspired jabs adding some large-ensemble heft to a series of performances that always benefit from tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander’s authoritative stance and bop-bred fluidity. Evoking a big man who is uncommonly light on his feet, Alexander’s tone is at once imposing and nimble. Guitarist Peter Bernstein also knows the value of dynamic shadings, and though there are numerous examples here of his subtly expressive artistry, his contribution to LeDonne’s minor-key vignette “Mary Lou’s Blues” helps make for a particularly haunting interlude.

Originally Published