Kirk Lightsey: Live At Smalls Jazz Club

The veteran pianist is joined by Mark Whitfield, Santi DeBriano and Victor Lewis in a mix of the contemplative and straightahead


Now 85 years old, pianist Kirk Lightsey is one of the most respected of musicians, rising from the relatively minor role of an accompanist to singers to becoming part of Dexter Gordon’s group and joint leader of the star-studded Leaders in the late 1980s. Thereafter, he rubbed shoulders with a whole raft of major performers who came to the music from different directions.

New York’s Smalls Jazz Club was made available to this particular line-up by the establishment’s owner, Spike Wilner, who also produced the session. The session’s live credentials are only partially affected by the lack of an audience, which for some listeners would be a blessing.

This recording has some flaws, in so far as the balance is not quite on the button – bass and drums could have been taken up a tad; when guitarist Whitfield solos, his sound seems to overwhelm the band, leading to an impression of detachment. Nonetheless, there are moments to savour such as the beautiful rendition of J. J. Johnson’s Lament, where piano and guitar do justice to its familiar strains.

Elsewhere, a jam atmosphere seems to predominate, although given the performing history of all four, this never deteriorates into chaos. Lightsey and DeBriano have performed together countless times over the decades, and consequently there is a natural bond in any situation; on this occasion the slightly subdued master drummer Victor Lewis was never going to fail them.

The leader is his normal mix of the contemplation and straightahead swing which has kept him at the top of his game for so long – may that be the case for many years yet.

In Your Own Sweet Way; Freedom Jazz Dance; Pee Wee; Heaven Dance; Lament; Blues On The Corner (56.31)
Lightsey (p); Mark Whitfield (g); Santi DeBriano (b); Victor Lewis (d). NYC, 13 September 2021.
Cellar Music CMSLF003