Highly acclaimed pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs (pronounced Oh-Nah-Jay) voice is expansive, lyrical, sensitive, and poise as this approach to the piano draws sonically from the heart and soul of the elder statesmen in jazz. True, his name is not exactly a household one. However, his peers and jazz enthusiasts alike consider him an unsung hero, virtuoso, a player’s player if you will. I’m excited and honored to review, his 2000 release, “Return to Form” recorded “Live at The Blue Note” which is his first “Live” recording to date releases back in 2003.
Onaje, as usual has armed himself with a more then sufficient cast of musicians on this remarkable live recording he is accompanied by bassist Marcus McLaurine, drummer Payton Crossley, percussionist Gary Fritz, and on several tracks, saxophonist René McLean. As the title implies, Onaje returns to his roots when he played and recorded music with the definitive voices in jazz Norman Connors, Nate Adderly and Woody Shaw.
The opener “First Time We Met,” is the first of nine selections was originally recorded on “That Special Part of Me” his 1988 release on Zebra Records. Ironically, I distinctively remember this tune [I should] because it was an integral part of our wedding ceremony that same year. Onaje invokes a unique twist to this gem, which is quite provocative on this recording.
The lyrically flawless velocity of “Palace of The Seven Jewels” fits perfectly well in the mix of this live set by Gumbs. Initially, I heard this jewel on guitarist Kevin Eubanks 1987 recording “The Heat of Heat.” The ensemble interfaces remarkably well, with that said, this is the first time I heard this ensemble perform with Gumbs. Nonetheless, the outcome is undeniably pleasant as the players pull you right into the threshold of a treasure to behold.
“Return to Form” is musically stretched by shifting tones and patterns, therefore Gumbs reaffirms his gift as a composer, writer and producer in the framework of the melodical “Dreamville” (Henry Mancini – composition). Also a couple of my favorites are the funky “Left Side Right” and the bouncy “A Breath of Fresh Air.” Also, on the palette, you will hear a nifty little gem titled “So Nice,” [Dare to Dream] along with his inventive rendition of John Coltrane’s “Equinox.” Ultimately, there’s “Daydream,” (Strayhorn) this beautiful and tantalizing melody will simply astound you. And then, there’s the seductive “Quiet Passion” [also from Special Part of Me] is as titled concludes this prolific live session captured at the Blue Note by Onaje Allan Gumbs.
Perhaps in some jazz circles, folks might think Onaje Allan Gumbs has taken a shortcut, way out or predictable path artistically so to speak. If so, I shutter at the thought of this because we’re all guilty of residing in our comfort zone longer then desired. You bet, Gumbs has captured both the essence of an innovative trio and quartet eloquently by flipping the notes on the menu of nine distinctive compositions, and arrangements while joined at the hip of these talented collaborators is probably one of the finest live jazz recordings you’ll hear.
Onaje Allan Gumbs said:
I so appreciate this wonderful review of my CD, Return To Form. However there a couple of corrections that need to be made. This live date was recorded in 2000 and eventually released in 2003. I wish I had written “Dreamsville”. It was written by the late, great composer and inspiration, Henry Mancini. “So Nice” was first recorded on “Dare to Dream” and not “That Special Part of Me”.”Quiet Passion” was indeed recorded on “…Special…”It also should be noted that “Daydream” was written by the great Billy Strayhorn. It’s “A Breath of Fresh Air”, not “A Breathe…”:-) I’m sure that was just a typo. Again thank you so much for revisiting my music.