ARTIST: Lonnie Plaxico
Lonnie Plaxico : bass
Marcus Strickland : trenor saxophone
Alexander Norris : trumpet
Marin Bejerano : piano, keyboards
Lionel Cordew : drums
Kahil Kwame Bell : percussions
Live Recording at JAZZ STANDARD, New York on January 29, 2003
Lonnie Plaxico has had an illustrious career for more than 20 plus years. He first emerged while with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the early ‘80s. He then went on work with Don Byron, Barbara Dennerlein, Robin Eubanks, Freddie Hubbard, Jason Moran, David Murray, Greg Osby and M-Base, Michelle Rosewoman, Bud Shank, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Jackie Terrasson, vocalists Teri Thornton and Cassandra Wilson. Whew! Talk about a wide-ranging and diverse group of jazz greats! Lonnie has been one of the “first call” bass players in NY for years now, having appeared on numerous record dates, far too many to list. In addition to playing with Cassandra Wilson, he has been filling the important role of musical director for her as well.
This, his latest effort, was recorded live at New York’s jazz hot spot, the Jazz Standard, on January 29, 2003. The jazz club is located below a renowned barbeque restaurant called Blue Smoke and menu items from this restaurant are available to club-goers. The club is known for its jazz as well as its food.
Lonnie’s band presents a program of standards and original tunes. On this album he has assembled a very strong band that includes some familiar names as well as some newcomers. On trumpet and flugelhorn is Alex “Pope” Norris from the Baltimore area and a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Norris has been making a name for himself on the NYC scene for the last several years. Tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland was awarded a Thelonious Monk scholarship in 2002. He is the youngest member of the band at 24. He is from Miami, Florida and has been active on the NY jazz scene for the past few years. Pianist Martin Bejerano is currently working with drummer Roy Haynes. The drummer on this date is Lionel Cordew, who has been working closely with Plaxico in the studio as well on stage. He is also known as a member of the fusion group, Special EFX. Percussionist Kahil Kwame Bell has worked with Stefon Harris, Russell Gunn, Sam Yahel and Antonio Hart, among others.
The tunes here are a wonderful mix of jazz standards as well as originals by Lonnie. A slightly reworked version of Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” gets things off to a rousing start. Marcus Strickland and Alex Norris both dig in for solid solos. Norris plays with fire and soul without obvious references to composer and trumpet giant Lee Morgan.
“Jumping Jacks” is a tune by Lonnie with a funky groove. According to Lonnie, this song tries to encapsulate all of his experiences and influences as a musician. Strickland shows terrific form. His sound comes from Wayne Shorter with the requisite Coltrane and Sonny Rollins elements. Great sound and ideas.
“Dedicated To You,” the evergreen ballad by Sammy Cahn, is next. Strickland plays the tune in beautiful Shorter-like style. This tune brings to mind the Art Blakey’s Messengers bands of the ‘60s with Bejerano filling the role of Bobby Timmons, or Cedar Walton.
“A Shorter Take,” also by Lonnie is an obvious tip of the musical hat to Wayne Shorter, written in Wayne’s manner. Lonnie says the song was inspired by Wayne’s “Endangered Species” from his 1985 album Atlantis. This tune again shows off Marcus Strickland’s formidable technique and musical flair. Bejerano gets in a marvelous solo on this piece. Lonnie brings up the bottom with his electric bass playing.
“Summertime” features Norris playing with a Harmon mute and Bejerano on electric piano and Strickland plays soulfully. The tune has a Herbie Hancock-Mwandishi period vibe.
“Along Came Benny” is another of Lonnie’s compositions. If you are a jazz fan, you’ll catch the multiple references to “Along Came Betty” by Benny Golson. This is no coincidence. When Lonnie was ten years old, he fell in love with the Golson song when he heard an R&B arrangement by Quincy Jones. Later, when he heard the original version, he came to understand and appreciate it so much, he wanted to express the melody in his own way and wrote “Along Came Benny.” The chord progressions are based on Benny Golson’s song. When Lonnie participated in his first recording as a jazz musician in 1983 with The Art Blakey All Stars, he played “Along Came Betty” with Benny Golson himself. Obviously, Lonnie has fond memories associated with Golson’s song. Lonnie’s song is a very hip tune and a showcase for Norris, Strickland, Plaxico and Martin to show off their fine abilities. Lonnie gets a chance to show off some of his chops as well with his acoustic bass solo.
Next up is the timeless standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” made famous by John Coltrane, Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins. The track features Alex “Pope” Norris playing beautifully.
“Cachao’s Dance,” is yet another fine example of Lonnie’s compositional skills. It is a tribute to the late Cuban bassist Israel Cachao Lopez that utilizes complex, syncopated rhythms. The song provides Marcus, Alex and Martin room to eloquently convey their musical points of view.
The whole concept of this recording has an Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers like quality, with a funky polyrhythmic feel on the up-tempo numbers. It is not unlike the M-Base projects. The spirit of Buhaina is very much alive here. Lonnie’s compositions have a certain quality to the horn parts that is
reminiscent of the great Blue Note sessions of the ‘50s and ‘60s. There is also a very modern angular quality to the rhythmic aspects of the tunes.
The band wraps it up with Lonnie’s tribute to Horace Silver, “Señor Silver.” Everyone is given plenty of room to stretch out. Norris and Strickland burn it up. Martin then contributes an exceptional piano solo. Not enough can be said of the playing of drummer Lionel Cordew! He is an exceptional young drummer with a crisp, snapping, poly-funk feel that drives and ignites the entire experience.
Recorded before an attentive, yet enthusiastic audience at the Jazz Standard, this album has the aura of classic record dates which invoke a captivating atmosphere that can be so very elusive. It’s an outstanding musical event by one of the finest bassists in jazz and as is apparent by this record, he’s a superb bandleader. Lonnie Plaxico Group Live at Jazz Standard sets the standard!
ADDITIONAL ALBUM NOTES:
1. The Sidewinder
2. Jumping Jacks
3. Dedicated to You
4. A Shorter Take
6. Along Came Benny
7. You Don't Know What Love Is
8. Cachao's Dance
9. Señor Silver
(click thumbnail for larger image)