George Coleman: Live At Smalls Jazz Club

The 87-year-old veteran of 1960s Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock sessions retains command in a solid set of standards

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Any new recording by an 87-year-old jazz musician must at least be a testament to expressive longevity. On the other hand you might think saxophonist George Coleman’s time with B. B. King, Max Roach, Slide Hampton, Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, and his playing inter alia alongside Booker Little, Lee Morgan and Herbie Hancock, is justification for taking his foot off a much-pressed accelerator.

Drummer Joe Farnsworth’s liner-note assertion that Coleman is playing better than ever may be read – and forgiven – as the triumph of idolising zeal over empirical evidence to the contrary. Farnsworth, a member of the Coleman quartet on this album, may nevertheless have been awestruck by how enthusiastic the octogenarian still is.

The opening of Davis’s Four is a pointer: after seven decades as a practising musician one is not only deserving of slower tempi but not unexpectedly more at home with them. When Farnsworth ups the speed – he’s an excellent kit man – the opportunities for the leader fly by and sometimes have to be snatched at or allowed to continue on their way.

The mid-tempo At Last is more accommodating and the basic ballad tempi of My Funny Valentine and Nearness Of You are finally the ones in which those superannuated chops get to fasten on to a tune’s possibilities and dictate its variable speeds. The lungs are in reasonably excellent shape.

Coleman confides to Farnsworth that, from the B.B. King days, his career has been a search for improved technique and creative adventure. Live At Smalls not so much extends those two as acknowledges previous accomplishments. Farnsworth’s colleagues, Spike Wilner on piano and Peter Washington on bass, make for accompanists who are strangers to concession but admirers of a historical achievement to which they pay accord by giving of their best.

Discography
Four; At Last; My Funny Valentine; Meditation; Blues For Smalls; Nearness Of You; New York, New York; When Sunny Gets Blue (70.57)
Coleman (ts); Spike Wilner (p); Peter Washington (b); Joe Farnsworth (d). New York, 15 March 2022.
Cellar Music CMSLF006