Gerald Cannon – Combinations – Woodneck Records 66:27****:

A pleasant mixture of  precision and coolness

(Gerald Cannon – bass; Gary Bartz – alto sax # 1,7,10; Sherman Irby – alto sax #2,4,5,6;  Steve Slagle – alto sax #3;  Jeremy Pelt – trumpet # 1,2,4,5; Duane Eubanks – trumpet #10; Rick Germanson – piano #1,3,4,6,7,9; Kenny Barron – piano #2,5,10; Russell Malone – guitar #3,7,8;,Willie Jones III – drums #1,2,3,4,5,6,9,10; Will Calhoun – drums #7)

Gerald Cannon was last heard from as a leader of his own group in 2003 when he released the self-styled album Gerald Cannon. It’s not that he has  been inactive in the intervening years, he has. He has taught at several universities and conservatories including the Oberlin Conservatory, the Wisconsin Conservatory, and was a faculty member of the Conservatory of Maastricht, The Netherlands. He has also recorded with drummer Willie Jones III, guitarist Russell Malone, and pianist Rick Germanson among others.

In this cavalcade of musical styles and artists under the title Combinations, Cannon demonstrates his own versatility and that of his cohorts. Kicking things off with Slide Hampton’s “Every Man Is A King”, Cannon’s big-toned bass is in solo mode as this swinger takes shape. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt  and alto saxophonist Gary Bartz form the front line as they control the frame of the number.

Duke Ellington ’s compositions have become a ubiquitous presence on almost every album issued these days, and this one is no exception. “Prelude To A Kiss” is the vehicle for Steve Slagle’s alto sax. Coupled with Russell Malone’s slick guitar licks, they give the tune an evocative feeling.

“Amanda’s Bossa” is another Cannon original written in bossa nova style for his late mother. It features the singular piano of Kenny Barron and the front line of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and alto saxophonist Sherman Irby showing some lithesome interplay. The highly regarded bassist Sam Jones wrote “One For Amos” that has a blues melody and gives Cannon the space to develop the tune with his deep-toned bass. Altoist Sherman Irby is in full attack mode as he develops his intervention.

Guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Cannon team up for a thoughtful rendition of that old spiritual “How Great Thou Art” imbuing the number with a guileful soul-tinged flavour.

The title track “Combinations” is a quintet number with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz and trumpeter Duane Eubanks, and the rhythm section of Barron, Cannon and Jones III. It is filled with abstract phrases and structures but nevertheless, agreeably  reassuring.

Every Man Is A King
A Thought
Prelude To A Kiss
Columbus Circle Stop
Amanda’s Bossa
One For Amos
Garys Tune
How Great Thou Art
How My Heart Sings
Darn That Dream

—Pierre Giroux