The quality of playing on Combinations is altogether exceptional. Gerald Cannon goes the distance, winging it musically as he takes death-defying musical risks throughout. And yet the bassist takes nothing for granted. Nor should we in listening to him. If you know how your Blues ‘goes’, if you know how your spirituals ‘goes’, or if you know how your Jazz ‘goes’, then this record almost certainly isn’t for you. Not that Mr Cannon does anything wildly idiosyncratic, à la Malachi Favors. At the same time, mercifully, the powerful American shows no sign of being a budding prophet either. Rather, he plainly understands that every interpretation – of timeless music such as “Prelude to a Kiss””, “How Great Thou Art”, “How My Heart Sings” and “Darn That Dream” – is just one possibility, and he offers us the enticing opportunity to open our minds, especially in those familiar melodies most burdened by tradition.
Like his playing of standards, the performances of his own compositions is un-cautious as well, yet does not veer off too far into the stratospheric realm, but bubbles and boils in a breathtaking place with its effortless distinction between the many filigree lines and its aristocratic elegance. He is a master of mood and atmosphere, with the ability to coordinate colour and structure to a rare degree. “Prelude to a Kiss” consistently reveals his exceptional versatility and resourcefulness in this regard. He brings a profoundly contemplative and a Jazzy brilliance to his solo turn on “Darn That Dream”. And on His own work – such as “Amanda’s Samba” and “Gary’s Tune” he is an entertainer with a virtuosity which allows him to tackle grand, spacious, as well as volcanic changes, enhancing, if that’s quite the right word, underlying feelings of both rush and profundity, while elsewhere – indeed everywhere – revelations abound.
In the peremptory “Every Man is a King”, and in “A Thought” (both titular in everything but rhythmic adventure) Mr Cannon displays extraordinary genius for sheer colour and variety in the exceptional range and refinement of his bass playing. And “Columbus Circle Stop”, “One for Amos” and “Combinations” are full of glinting lights, mysterious depths, expectations, frustrations and hopes like the shadows in a mirror whose shattered shards have been re-constructed by the joy of hope. Everywhere Gerald Cannon imparts a power and triumphant stature to music, giving it a ‘bigness’ that few bassists – and indeed musicians – playing yesterday, or today, can achieve. And he is well matched by – and in – the variety and stylishness of performance throughout, by the rest of this stellar cast. The saxophonists and trumpets are seductively brilliant, the pianists and guitarist play with buoyant grace and the drummers are insolently effortless and debonair; all bringing unbridled virtuosity and swagger to this priceless record, co-produced by Willie Jones III and brilliantly engineered to almost impossible perfection by Katherine Miller.
Track list – 1: Every Man Is a King; 2: A Thought; 3: Prelude to a Kiss; 4: Columbus Circle Stop; 5: Amanda’s Bossa; 6: One for Amos; 7: Gary’s Tune; 8: How Great Thou Art; 9: How My Heart Sings; 10: Combinations; 11: Darn That Dream
Personnel – Gerald Cannon: bass; Gary Bartz: alto saxophone (1, 7, 10); Sherman Irby: alto saxophone (2, 4 – 6); Steve Slagle: alto saxophone (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 – 6, 9, 10); Will Calhoun: drums (7)
Released – 2017
Label – Wood Neck Records
Runtime – 1:06:33