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George Coleman: A Master Speaks

George Coleman, Saxophone, a master speaks, nicole sweeney, wbgo

It’s been 20 years since George Coleman has released an album as a leader, and that is one of the reasons that “A Master Speaks” is the best title for this new album on the Smoke label. That and the fact that he is a 2015 NEA Jazz Master. Inspired by Charlie Parker, George has played with many greats such as Max Roach, Curtis Fuller, Lionel Hampton, and Miles Davis-and that is just to name a few. George Coleman IS a master, and we all know that when a master speaks, we all should listen.

The first song “Invitation”, a classic tune, is the perfect way to start off this album as its not rushed; you are able to hear, feel and enjoy each of the musicians and you certainly feel the expertise that George brings to the music. Especially at the end…..George makes the saxophone sing in a way only a master can.
I have a saying: “The classics never get old” and you are reminded of that again when “The Shadow of Your Smile” starts to play. George’s playing is so sweet, it truly becomes its own voice. Couple that with a beautiful solo from pianist Mike LeDonne and you are transported to another time and place in an instant.
George lets us in on his Memphis roots and pays homage to a blues legend with whom he first started playing the tenor saxophone with: B.B. King. Blues for B.B. reminds us how closely the two genres are related, and how great of a musician B.B. King was. On this cut, guitarist Peter Bernstein gives is a grooving solo that leaves you wanting more. Pianist Mike LeDonne matches the groove with a slick solo next and you start to realize that these musicians were hand selected by George for a reason.

Blondie’s Waltz has a straight no chaser kind of swing to it that makes you want to put on your dancing shoes. It features a drum solo by George’s son George Coleman Jr where you can picture dad looking over at son with a proud smile on his face. This is their first recording together, making this album that much more special. Other original pieces such as “You’ll Never Know What You Mean to Me”, written by Mike LeDonne and “Sonny’s Playground” written by George Sr, already have a classic feel to it. George plays with such perfection; every single note is meaningful.
“Darn that Dream”, is a ballad that is simply beautiful. George blows life long experience into this instrument and you feel it in your soul. There also seems to be a special musical relationship between George Sr and pianist Mike LeDonne and it really comes to life on “These Foolish Things”, a duet between the two that reminds us that when done the right way, two instruments are just as soulful as 5.

There’s a song I grew up with that says “Age ain’t nothing but a number, throwing down ain’t nothing but a thing”….and I couldn’t help but to think of that line when I heard the final cut “Time to Get Down”, written by George Sr, as he is certainly getting down on this cut. This is another one that swings in a toe tapping, finger snapping, head bopping way that makes jazz lovers fall in love time and time again. And at 81 years young, George Sr. reminds us that age is really just a number, and throwing down that swing ain’t nothing but a thing for him!

It’s interesting, though you can’t see them, you can almost close your eyes and see the respect Mike LeDonne (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Peter Bernstein (guitar), and George Coleman Jr (drums) have for George Sr. And I’m sure you can feel the special connection between George Jr & Sr on their first recorded album together. This album serves as an important reminder that we must shower our living legends with the respect and love they deserve. The lessons they have to share are priceless and we can’t take them for granted. Every note on “A Master Speaks” is a lesson from a legend that we should be thankful to be a part of.

-Nicole Sweeney
On Air Announcer

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