Saxophonist George Coleman may have started his career in Memphis playing with B.B. King, but by the time he arrived in New York in 1957 to play on a jazz record for the first time with Lee Morgan (City Lights, Blue Note), his star was ascendant. His brief tenure with the Miles Davis Quintet is how many jazz fans know Coleman, but the dynamic sax player soon established his own following and estimable discography. (That’s him playing tenor on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage recording.) Now 80, Coleman betrays no sense of diminished faculty or stamina on A Master Speaks (Smoke Sessions), his first album as a leader in twenty years. His tone remains deep, burnished, husky and soulful.
The album starts with a bang – an extended arrangement of “Invitation” kicks off with a spirited Horace Silver-like riff played by pianist Mike LeDonne. It’s a fine groove that’s joined by bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer George Coleman, Jr. that Coleman, Sr. just glides into. It’s a syncopated swinger that lets his dark, smooth sax go on the prowl. Authentic in feeling, Coleman gives standards such as “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Darn That Dream” a level of swing and class that they deserve along with a renewed melodic interest. Guitarist Peter Bernstein sits in on “Blues For B.B.” a stately Coleman original that fetes his former mentor in the most lyrical way, and the band wraps its up with a high-style, old-school jam, “Time To Get Down.” Coleman admits he doesn’t like to record much, but he loves to play. Lucky for us, A Master Speaks captures his voice in all its glory. (9 tracks; 66 minutes)