Mike LeDonne – I Love Music – Savant SCD 2135, 53:38 [5/11/14] ****1/2:
(Mike LeDonne – B-3 organ; Eric Alexander – tenor saxophone; Peter Bernstein – guitar; Joe Farnsworth – drums)
Like many jazz organists, Mike LeDonne started out on piano. Growing up around the family music store where his father Micki played jazz guitar, his path to music was inevitable. After graduating from The New England Conservatory, he moved to New York and became a fixture in jazz circles. Earlier in his career, he established himself as a sought-after pianist, playing with Benny Goodman, the Art Farmer-Clifford Jordan Quartet, Dizzy Gillespie, Stanley Turrentine and Sonny Rollins. His eleven-year association with Milt Jackson and three recording projects with Benny Golson solidified his prominence as a sideman.
But it was his transition to Hammond B-3 that launched his bandleader ascension. The Groover Quartet — with Eric Alexander (tenor saxophone); Peter Bernstein (guitar) and Joe Farnsworth (drums) continue to be a must-see act appearing nearly every Tuesday night at New York’s esteemed club, Smoke, for over a decade. Their debut, The Groover (2010) reached the top slot on the jazz charts for 14 weeks. The follow-up, Keep The Faith also garnered critical and commercial acclaim.
Mike LeDonne and The Groover Quartet have released a new album, titled I Love Music. Fittingly, the opening cut is a straight ahead post-bop arrangement of Milt Jackson’s “Blues For Gene”. After a tight group intro, Alexander offers a lengthy solo, pushing the boundaries of the melody. Bernstein is up next and executes a fluid run. The jam maintains a groove vibe and Ledonne wails on his solo, weaving chords, notation and funky Leslie effects. The group finishes up in unison.
In the first of two Stevie Wonder covers (“I Love Every Little Thing About You”), the quartet stretches out exploring melodic aesthetics, but keep the finger-snapping cadence and superb cohesion. Farnsworth’s drumming is adept and roots the complex instrumentation. LeDonne and Bernstein maneuver in and out of the rhythm section. LeDonne’s extended solo is invigorating and colorful, relentless in grooves. He plays in subtle counterpoint to Alexander.
There is a core, bop swing jazz in a spirited take on the Gamble/Huff title track. The tempo is propulsive (Farnsworth again) and Alexander’s tenor is muscular and punctuated with syncopated riffs. This traditional jazz structure liberates the improvisational acuity of the soloists. Bernstein percolates and LeDonne is especially creative with a sprightly transition at the 6:30 mark. In keeping with jazz lore, a feel-good show tune (“Put On A Happy Face” from Act 1 of Bye Bye Birdie) is rendered in a slower blues construct. In a more serious interpretation, “Blues For Ball” employs a cooler, sharper jazz edge. Alexander cuts loose on tenor before handing it off to Bernstein. LeDonne is vibrant, reminiscent of the great Jimmy Smith.
The grove fest returns with a pleasing version of War’s “The World Is A Ghetto”. The ensemble concocts a lively jazz piece but maintains the basic melodic structure. But on the finale, Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” is explosive and gives Farnsworth an opportunity to shine. LeDonne and Alexander infuse some “call and response” licks (as on some of the other songs). I Love Music is great jazz!
TrackList: Blues For Gene; I Love Every Little Thing About You; I Love Music; Put On A Happy Face; Blues For Ball; The World Is A Ghetto; Do I Do
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