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In the sweepstakes for longest time between albums, bassist Neil Swainson finally follows up his 1987 debut 49th Parallel with this year’s Fire in the West. With a love for Miles Davis’ fifties combos and experience playing in the bands of George Shearing and Woody Shaw, it’s no surprise that Swainson goes right for the hard bop jugular here. He lays it down right out of the gate with the opening title track: trumpeter Brad Turner (evoking Shaw) and saxophonist Kelly Jefferson share riffs and solos, pianist Renee Rosnes supports them with beautifully melodic comping (and fiery solos of her own), and Swainson and drummer Lewis Nash keep the rhythm swinging. Standards thus set, Swainson and company uphold them, whether on high energy boppers like “Cascades” and “Kyushu,” relaxed swingers like “Standing Back” and “Near North,” or creamy ballads like “Fool’s Gold” and the gorgeous “Gone Away.” He ends the set with another track paying tribute to a key influence, as “Silver Mine” salutes Horace Silver’s penchant for composing the perfect hard bop tuneage. It seems a shame that Swainson waited 35 years to make Fire in the West, but maybe he needed those three-and-a-half decades’ worth of sideperson gigs in order to hone his own artistry to make a record as good as this one.
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