WBGO Radar

George Cables: The George Cables Songbook

George Cables album cover

Simply stated: George Cables is a living legend and an American treasure. The pianist has gifted the world a multitude of timeless compositions that simultaneously speak to the body, mind and soul.  His pristine lines dance with a blues-tinged fire, and delight with shimmering grace. It is as easy to get lost in the melodic lyricism of a Cables ballad, as it is with one of his soulful vamping grooves or his erupting flights of percussive fancy. These qualities have elevated the rhythm sections for such luminaries as saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean and Art Pepper, trumpeters Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Dizzy Gillespie and drummers Max Roach and Roy Haynes.

In addition to his prolific recordings as a sideman, George Cables has recorded over 30 sessions as a leader. His newest, The George Cables Songbook (his fourth session for High Note), is a collection of 11 fresh originals. The album is  like a hearty cookbook of sustenance and time honored masterpieces. With all the right ingredients, Cables concocts the perfect elixir for his wizardry.  

The George Cables Songbook shines a new light on some of the pianist’s well known compositions, like the driving and soulful, “Think On Me,” the contemplative and arresting duet “Sweet Rita Suite” and the intricate scorcher  “Dark Side, Light Side.”  There are also newer songs such as the pulsing and bluesy album opener “Traveling Lady.” Also showcased are memorable tracks like the Monk-tinged “Melodious Funk” and the thrilling Coltrane-esque and “Giant Steps” inspired “Baby Steps.”

“Mysteries of Monifa Brown,” was graciously penned as a birthday gift for yours truly. I will forever be honored and grateful.

Cables is joined on the recording by long time trio-mates: bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis, as well as tenorman and flautist Craig Handy, percussionist Steve Kroon and vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. In 2013, Cables approached Charles with the idea of collaboration. His vision comes full circle on The George Cables Songbook, with Charles contributing lyrics to five of the album’s compositions. Cables shares, “She’s in tune with my music; her lyrics are poetic, they tell a story, and are on point in capturing the thought of the piece.” The dynamic young vocalist is an alumnus of The New School, where Cables has taught since 2011 and Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead Program, where she first met Cables in 2010.

In the album’s liner notes Cables declares, “To me, it’s about doing it your way, finding your own voice, and knowing the story you want to tell.” George Cables has cemented his story and place among the pantheon of the greatest modern jazz pianists. The beauty is that he is still writing his story and we get to bear witness to his continual evolution.

Monifa Brown
Saturday Afternoon Jazz
Follow Monifa on Twitter - @globaljazzqueen

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