Return to Form
Return to Form: Live at the Blue Note is a jazz album by Onaje Allan Gumbs. Recorded in 2000 at the Blue Note jazz club in New York, it was released on November 4, 2003 on Half Note Records.
At his concert at the Blue Note, Gumbs played with Marcus McLaurine (double bass), Payton Crossley (drums), Gary Fritz (percussion), and on some tracks with saxophonist René McLean. This was Gumbs’ fourth album under his own name, following 1989’s Dare to Dream, which falls into the smooth jazz genre. In contrast, Gumbs played here in the postbop tradition several original compositions and three other titles, “Daydream” by Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn, “Equinox” by John Coltrane and “Dreamsville” by Henry Mancini.
The “return” alluded to in the title presumably refers to a move away from the pop-jazz that had been Gumbs’ primary mode of expression nearly two decades earlier, John Chacona opined. The latter had established his reputation as a Herbie Hancock-influenced pianist with his work for Norman Connors and Woody Shaw, but then became musical director for singers such as Angela Bofill and Jeffrey Osborne. About ten years before the Blue Note recordings, he came to prominence with a series of pop-jazz CDs.
- Onaje Allan Gumbs: Return to Form (Half Note Records HN 4915)
- First Time We Met 4:53
- Palace of the Seven Jewels 7:37
- Dreamsville (Ray Evans, Jay Livingston, Henry Mancini) 6:08
- Left Side of Right 6:50
- A Breath of Fresh Air 6:03
- So Nice 4:17
- Equinox (John Coltrane) 12:57
- Daydream (Duke Ellington, John Latouche, Billy Strayhorn) 6:34
- Quiet Passion 8:48
- All other compositions are by Onaje Allan Gumbs.
Ken Dryden gave the album 4½ (out of five) stars in Allmusic, saying Onaje Allan Gumbs is a highly praised pianist among his jazz peers, though it’s surprising this veteran hasn’t recorded more often as a leader. On this 2000 live set from the Blue Note, he is “in great form.” Gumbs’ innovative approach to John Coltrane’s “Equinox” is wonderful, he says; “it’s set to a Latin rhythm that replaces the bass vamp of “A Love Supreme” while quoting several of Coltrane’s other works in a tense sequence.” Also noteworthy, in Dryden’s opinion, are his shimmering trio arrangements of “Daydream,” a beautiful ballad by Ellington and Strayhorn, and Mancini’s “Dreamsville.” The intimate sound of this highly recommended CD conveys “the feeling of having a table in the front row of the club”,sums up Ken Dryden.
John Chacona (One Final Note) expressed some reservations: “The Harlem-born pianist sounds like he hasn’t quite left the other camp. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The few pop-jazz albums of his I had heard were always carefully crafted and in the best taste. But what worked so well in a commercial idiom becomes a liability when he offers meatier fare like Coltrane’s ‘Equinox’ and Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Daydream’ alongside pleasant, tidy Gumbs originals like ‘So Nice’ and ‘Quiet Passion.'” Gumbs’ interpretation of Coltrane and Strayhorn’s music is probably the highlight of the CD, Chacona says, but elsewhere he seems to run into trouble playing fast runs with his right hand. Maybe it’s intentional, the author negates, but there are any number of places where Gumbs launches into one of those long, pure single-note runs that have been the staple of straightahead solos since Bud Powell. Then it’s like his fingers get tied up and the notes crash into each other like the cars of a train that’s gone off the tracks, but maybe that’s just his style upon return. In any case, it’s not the effortless, flowing style that established Gumbs as the next best thing to Hancock thirty years ago. When he plays like this – and there’s nothing to suggest he can’t – the “return to form” is complete.
According to Steve Futterman, who reviewed the album in JazzTimes, Return to Form finds Gumbs “back in the jazz saddle” after years in other genres. In this crisply recorded live session, Gumbs leads a tight-knit trio backed here and there by saxophonist René McLean and an unobtrusive percussionist. Time away from the scene seems to have been a tonic for the pianist, says the author; he sounds assured and focused throughout. In a trio performance of Henry Mancini’s “Dreamsville,” Gumbs infuses a McCoy-Tyner-like conception with deliciously relaxed phrasing, and a fast version of “Daydream” lends vitality to the Strayhorn classic. It’s heartening to hear “a veteran return to action,” Futterman sums up, “sounding more evolved and involved than expected.”
- Review of the album by Ken Dryden at AllMusic (English). Retrieved April 8, 2020.
- John Chacona:Onaje Allan Gumbs: Return to Form.One Final Note, January 13, 2004, accessed April 7, 2020 (English).
- Onaje Allan Gumbs: Return to Form
- Onaje Allan Gumbs: Return to Form.JazzTimes, 1 June 2004, accessed 7 April 2020 (English).