In his new album for Smoke Sessions Records, Return of the Jazz Communicators, drummer Louis Hayes leads an updated version of the Jazz Communicators, the ensemble he co-founded in 1967 with trumpeter Freddy Hubbard and saxophonist Joe Henderson. Where the original band was fronted by trumpet and sax, the new configuration features the sax of Abraham Burton and the vibraphone of Steve Nelson. In an interview in the album’s liner notes, Hayes gives a kind of been there, done that explanation for the change: “I’ve had groups with trumpet and saxophone out front a lot of different times … I didn’t want the same thing like that.” Driven by some spirited energetic drum work from Hayes, and complemented by the piano of David Bryant and the bass of Dezron Douglas, it’s a new sound, a good sound.
Recorded live at Smoke, like most of the albums in the Smoke Sessions series, the set features a dozen tunes combining standards and original pieces, in what has become the typical bill of fare for current jazz albums. If communication is what Hayes and his ensemble are aiming for, this is an album that hits the mark. They take a tune like Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” and Nelson’s elegant vibe exposition combined with Hayes’ brushwork has the song speaking like the true classic it is. It is a tour de force, a revelation. Burton does the same for both “Groovin’ for Nat,” a song Hayes says he used to listen to Dizzy Gillespie’s big band play at Birdland, as well as his own composition, “It’s to You.”
The set opens with a soulful attack on “Soul-Leo,” followed by Nelson’s uptempo bop “Shape Shifting,” which gives everyone a chance to show what these musicians can do. And they can do a lot. Bravura versions of “Without a Song” and “Portrait of Jennie” fill out the roster of standards. Hayes’ “Lou’s Idea” has a melody that generates some clever wit from the piano and bass. The set closes with a hard-driving bop, “Village Greene.”
Return of the Jazz Communicators is another very fine album in the Smoke Sessions series, the kind of album that will have jazz fans’ mouths watering for more.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00JEVMR5M,B00JMTHO0Y,B00JMTHUEO]