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Saxophonist and NEA jazz master George Coleman has played with more luminaries than most of us have had hot dinners: Chet Baker, Ahmad Jamal, Charles Earland, Max Roach, Slide Hampton, and, most famously, Miles Davis, when Coleman manned the horn before Wayne Shorter arrived. Amazingly, he was on the scene for nearly twenty years before recording his first album as a leader, 1977’s Meditation. Now, at 88 years old, he’s taking a well-deserved victory lap with Live at Smalls Jazz Club. Backed by pianist Spike Wilner, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer/producer Joe Farnsworth, Coleman puts a set of standards (plus one original) through their paces, to gorgeous and swinging results. The trio sets up the perfect foundation for beautiful ballads like Hoagy Carmichael’s “Nearness of You” and blazing bangers like Etta James’ “At Last” (yeah, we know that’s supposed to be a ballad, too, but not in Coleman’s frisky hands), on which Coleman lays his perfect tone and flawless technique. Live at Smalls Jazz Club shows that Coleman is neither gone nor forgotten.
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