Eddie Henderson – Be Cool – Smoke Session Records 

The many dimensions of cool explored with elegant style

Eddie Henderson – Be Cool – Smoke Session Records SSR-1802 76:56****:

(Eddie Henderson – trumpet; Donald Henderson – alto saxophone; Kenny Barron – piano; Essiet Essiet – bass; Mike Clark – drums)

The 77-year old trumpeter Eddie Henderson, has a backstory quite unlike most jazz musicians of his generation, or any other generation for that matter. His mother was a dancer at the original Cotton Club in Harlem. His father sang with Billy Williams and The Charioteers, a well-known singing group. Growing up he received an informal trumpet lesson from Louis Armstrong, and later on ( age 17) he played a gig with Miles Davis who was one of his early influences .

He graduated from Howard University in 1968 with a medical degree. He continued his medical education as well as starting a general practice in San Francisco from 1975-85  In the early 1970s he was part of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band. This musical and life journey continues as Henderson explores the many dimensions of cool in his newest release Be Cool.

The band that Henderson has assembled for this adventure is filled with suppleness as exemplified by saxophonist Donald Harrison, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Essiet Essiet, and drummer Mike Clark. Opening the album is Barron’s tune ‘Smoke Screen” which has a perky funky vibe laid down by the rhythm section. After a couple of choruses of union playing between Harrison and Henderson, they each successively provide solos, that are filled with enthusiasm, which is then followed by Barron with a down the centre  solo.

Henderson’s wife Natsuko wrote the title track “Be Cool” which is an admonishment that Henderson follows in his approach to playing. Taken at moderate tempo, it is a fairly straightforward line, but structured in such a way as give all the participants a chance to say their piece with Henderson leading the way in a “cool” fashion.  Barron chips in doing his bit with a slinky solo.

Ballads can be a tricky bit of business for jazz musicians as false and incorrect notes are easily picked up all the more so in a recording environment. A consummate profession such as Eddie Henderson is not deterred by this potential trap as he so ably demonstrates on “After You’ve Gone”. In a tour de force performance, with his mellow and elegant sound he delivers a mournful story of loss.

John Coltrane’s “Naima” takes center stage in 3/4 time as the rhythm section lays the groundwork with Henderson’s trumpet delivering the theme with scintillating intensity and Harrison’s tenor is in full Coltrane mode on his solo. Not to be outdone, Barron’s roguish voice swings inventively.

Finally,  with a nostalgic glance back on his time with Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, Henderson takes one of Hancock’s prominent compositions “Toys” using a rhythm chart prepared by one of his students at Oberlin College, where he now teaches. While certainly some of the elements of the composition still remain, Henderson has given the number a facelift to convey a very different feel.

TrackList: Smoke Screen; Be Cool; After You’ve Gone; Loft Funk; Fran Dance; The Moontrane; Naima; The Sand Castle Head Hunters; Nightride; Toys; Easy Living; Dia Juzi

—Pierre Giroux

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