The opening two tunes, both written by trumpeter and flugelhorn player Eddie Henderson, will divide listeners between those who like the sound of Fender Rhodes and those who don’t. Pianist George Cables (no stranger to electric piano) creates a ’70s groove for the opener, “Sunburst,” and an atmospheric bath for the second, appropriately titled “Dreams.” The rest of the album is all acoustic, starting with a Cables original, “Morning Song,” which, ironically, Henderson first recorded in 1977 on his fusion album Comin’ Through. Here and throughout the CD, drummer Carl Allen provides meticulous support, sounding remarkably crisp in part because, unlike most of the releases by Smoke Session Records, this was recorded in a studio, not at the club.
Alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, who has recorded with Henderson off and on since 1972, joins the quartet for six of the 10 cuts. His edgy, anything-but-sentimental tone has always paired well with Henderson, and the two horn men sound particularly alive on Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy.” But the highlight of the album is a medium-tempo waltz written by Henderson’s wife, Natsuko, titled “Together” and written to celebrate their 20-year marriage. The tune includes a lovely solo by bassist Doug Weiss and features the most fully realized solo by Henderson, one that tells a full story from start to finish.
In an interview that appears in the liner notes, Henderson discusses aspects of his life apart from music, including his medical degree and work as a psychiatrist. (His patients included Thelonious Monk.) Henderson also provides brief and somewhat helpful anecdotes about the tune selection. Ultimately, Collective Portrait is not an essential recording, but it’s a session by true veterans who deserve our respect, if not admiration. —Sascha Feinstein