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Rick Germanson Quartet: Live at Smalls

SmallsLIVE was designed to offer listeners without easy access to the Greenwich Village club the opportunity to experience the atmosphere without the travel expenses. Pianist Rick Germanson fully embraces that mission, offering a rough-hewn, feel-over-finesse set of hard bop that will have you getting up off your couch to head for the bar. The quartet leaps right in with Bobby Timmons’ “So Tired,” driven by the propulsively grooving rhythm section of bassist Paul Gill and drummer Lewis Nash and highlighted by Dr. Eddie Henderson’s gutsy solo. Somehow the chattering and glasses-clinking crowd enhances the feeling of relaxed camaraderie on “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” with Germanson playfully goading Henderson during the trumpeter’s muted solo before spinning his own variations on the familiar melody. That alternation of the blazing and the blissful is maintained throughout, as when the yearning “Shorter Waltz” is followed by the dark-cloud ferocity of “Interloper.”

Where Germanson’s set has the energy of a primetime set, saxophonist Jesse Davis’ quintet date feels more like an after-hours session, Davis’ raw-throated alto presiding over a less explosive but more playful, loose-limbed program. There’s plenty of space for all involved to stretch out on the disc’s five tunes, none shorter than 10 minutes. The leader blows a scything blues through “I’ll Close My Eyes” before picking up the pace with the jaunty, Bird-tinged original “Piece of the Apple,” kept aloft on drummer Billy Drummond’s boiling-point rhythmic outbursts. Following a closing-time intro by pianist Spike Wilner, trumpeter Ryan Kisor moans the melody of “Body and Soul,” Peter Washington’s bass offering an eloquent shoulder to cry on. Washington bows in duet with Davis’ keening alto to open the melancholy “Pray Thee/Beyond the Storm,” before the disc closes with the sleek “Journey From the Lighthouse,” featuring a convivial, urbane solo by Wilner.

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