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Better Late Than Never by Gil Coggins

Clichés are the worst and I try to avoid them at all costs. I must admit, however, that the title for this CD is most apt. Pianist, Gil Coggins’ near debut recording, Better Late Than Never, released in 2007 by Small Records, is one of my favorite trio recordings of the year. The material was recorded at different times during the first part of the twenty first century. A mere seventeen years earlier Mr. Coggins released his only other recording as a leader, a Japanese import, Gil’s Mood (1990 Interplay) also a trio recording. An excellent pianist with a refreshingly original style, Mr. Coggins makes all of the songs on this recording, the standards and the not so standard, shine with his spirited approach, blending all manner of emotion. Creating lines of joy, humour, sadness and beauty, his playing is simply a joy to behold.

Of Barbadian descent, Gilbert Lloyd Coggins was born in Harlem on August 8, 1924, he grew up around and was influenced by, many of New York’s jazz greats. A friend of Miles Davis’s, Coggins was a part of many of the 50s recordings of Davis' Prestige and Blue Note sessions. Gil Coggins also performed and recorded with John Coltrane, Ray Draper, Lester Young, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Sonny Rollins, and his student, Jackie McLean, during the 50’s.

After a lifetime of playing the sideman it is about time Coggins steps out and takes the spotlight. As the leader of this trio he sets the mood, he dictates the flow, the feel and the groove, he also compliments the playing of bassist Mike Fitzbenjamin and drummers Louis Hayes and Jimmy Wormworth. Coggins always compliments the melody, even when he is playing outside the melody, with his choppy runs and percussive chords, that are accented where you would least expect it and slightly off time, you still have a sense of the melody in his sensitive and minimalist style. The opening track, "I’m Old Fashioned" is a great example of maintaining the melody line while reaching for a fresh take on an old standard, Coggins plays the tune with wonderful dynamics and plenty of spirit.

The recording is made up of seven tracks, fifty minutes of classic material from some of the greatest composers of our time. Composers like Jerome Kerns, Neil Hefti, Hart and Rodgers, Dameron, Bacharach, Mingus and Davis. Providing the listener with an array of gorgeously crafted songs, mostly performed in a ballad or blues style, music to lay back and relax to. A bebop pianist with a gift for imparting emotion in every note he plays, yet maintaining in his playing a calming, mesmerizing effect. On the Neil Hefti song "Repetition" Coggins plays the moderately paced tune with a fire like attack, his chords are aggressive, his runs are blazing and brilliant. The bassist, Fitzbenjamin along with whichever drummer is playing, Hayes or Wormworth lay out a solid foundation that allows Coggins to shine. This album is a testament to his spirit, a spirit that lives on brightly through these beautifully interpreted songs.

Gil Coggins passed away at New York's Terence Cardinal Cook Health Care Center on February 15, 2004, at the age of 79. He had been injured in a serious auto accident on June 8, 2003, and was unable to recover from his injuries.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Gil Coggins
  • CD Title: Better Late Than Never
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Small Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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