by Willard Manus
Jacques Lesure, a jazz giant on the guitar, has just released a new CD, CRENSHAW CHRISTMAS, which celebrates the holiday season in a fresh, captivating way. Working with organist Mikel Majeed and drummer Lajhi Hampdem, the L.A.-based Lesure investigates three traditional Christmas tunes ("O Christmas Tree," "We Three Kings" and "Silent Night") and three standards ("Little Drummer Boy," "Not ANOTHER Fruitcake!" and "That Christmas")...and makes each and every one of them sound new and arresting.
There are no familiar riffs here, no cliche phrases or solos. Lesure wrote the charts and took the lead on each tune, setting a high standard of interpretation for his two band-mates to match, something they did with remarkable skill and originality. The unison playing on this disc, the musicianship, are of the highest order, jazz at its finest.
Lesure, whose guitar solo in the recent film LA LA LAND, was highly praised, can also be found every Tuesday night leading the house band at Parker's, the Hollywood nightclub which used to be known as Billy Berg's. It was there, in the post-war years, that the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis wowed jazz fans with their dazzling musical gifts. Jacques Lesure is not only keeping that tradition alive, but building on it.