Nothing unflattering can be said about Chicago-born and -based guitarist Peter Lerner's latest album, Continuation
. The energy level is high, the charts admirable, the supporting cast exemplary. On the other hand, it would be hard to separate the enterprise from a veritable sea of rivals that dwell in a comparable groove. As there is nothing explicit with which to censure this earnest studio session, neither is there anything special to set it apart from many others. It is simply a pleasure to hear, thanks in part to the talents of longtime Windy City mainstay Willie Pickens, a soulful pianist who is one of Lerner's more notable mentors.
The size of the group ranges from quartet to octet, with Lerner and Pickens present throughout, bassist Marlene Rosenberg and drummer Rick Heath backing them on all but the last track ("When Sunny Gets Blue"), and saxophonist Geof Bradfield, flugel Victor Garcia, trombonist Andy Baker and percussionist Joe Rendon sitting in on various numbers. Lerner wrote half a dozen tunes to complement "Sunny," guitarist Grant Green's galloping "Jean de Fleur" and trumpeter Kenny Dorham's graceful "La Mesha."
The session opens with Lerner's fond salute to Pickens, "Willie n Me," a vigorous anthem on which the horns lay out while guitar and piano trade muscular solos. "Once Upon a Chance Encounter" pairs a lovely melody with incisive statements by Lerner, Pickens and Barfield's expressive tenor, while the cheeky "Southside Strut" paints a funky portrait of Chicago's southernmost precinct. "Jean de Fleur" and "La Mesha" are preceded by Lerner's assertive "Amazon" (splendid work by Bradfield on flute and Garcia on flugel) and followed by his aptly named "Funkdat" and irrepressible "My Blues," on which Pickens validates his blues bona fides with an impassioned solo and Lerner, Rosenberg and Heath follow suit.
As noted, there's nothing here that is less than agreeable. Lerner and his colleagues are seasoned pros who leave nothing to chance. Continuation is well-planned, well-recorded, well-played and well worth seeking out.