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Pianist George Cables Is Both Carefree And All Business On 'I'm All Smiles'


This is FRESH AIR. Jazz pianist George Cables was a favorite accompanist of saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper, trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, vibist Bobby Hutcherson and others in the 1970s and '80s. Later, Cables began leading his own groups more often. These days, he performs with the hard bop all-stars known as The Cookers and with his own trio. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of the pianist's latest CD.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: George Cables with a bumping take on Thelonious Monk's "Ugly Beauty." As pianist, Cables can come off as carefree and all business at the same time. He gets a bright sound from piano, and his rhythms are sprightly, but he's not just flexing his wrists. His solos reveal a deep sense of groove and pacing and a mind at work. He may start simply and gradually pile up the complications. Here's George Cables on Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil."


WHITEHEAD: George Cables on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass and Victor Lewis on drums from Cables' CD "I'm All Smiles." The title track comes from a forgotten 1965 musical version of "The Yearling" that closed after three performances - forgotten except by jazz singers and musicians, who gave "I'm All Smiles" some currency. Cables anchors his improvisation to a catchy, recurring syncopated chord sequence.


WHITEHEAD: That's one of three tunes here in a waltzing triple meter, along with "Ugly Beauty" and Jaco Pastorius' ballad "Three Views Of A Secret." The tumbling lope of those easy, odd-numbered beats animates the band. Tunes also include the Sinatra standard "Young At Heart." Cables gussies it up a bit and dimples it with little breaks for bass and his own left hand in sturdy unison, but the frills just enhance the song's jauntiness. This music is built to move.


WHITEHEAD: On one hand, "I'm All Smiles" continues a series of fine George Cables trio CDs, his third with this lineup and fifth with Victor Lewis on drums. But it's also a comeback record as Cables rebounds from severe health problems. He had a leg amputated early last year, and fans rallied with financial support. In some modern trios, anyone might take control at any time, but this is definitely the piano player's band. It's not that Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis aren't right there every second, but they let Cables have his day. Bass and drums hit a certain happy groove that rhythm sections slide into, setting up a soloist with quietly limber support. They want to hear George Cables as much as we do.


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point Of Departure and The Audio Beat. He reviewed "I'm All Smiles," the new CD by pianist George Cables. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Sarah Jessica Parker. She stars in the HBO series "Divorce," which starts its third season this week. HBO is also the home of her series "Sex And The City." I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGE CABLES' "BESAME MUCHO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead
Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.