By Ed Enright | Published November 2017
Vincent Herring’s third release on Smoke Sessions is a soulful groover that finds the alto and soprano saxophonist wailing the hard-bop blues, with gospel-like exclamations and deep pockets of funk contributing to the album’s uplifting vibe. Herring’s rhythm section of pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Carl Allen provides a no-nonsense support system upon which the leader leans to bare his soul and celebrate life while confronting the challenges of hard times. They are joined on several tracks by guitarist Russell Malone, trombonist Steve Turre, trumpeter Brad Mason and tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon, playing Jazz Messengers-style arrangements one minute and conjuring the loose, easygoing feel of a late-night jam session the next. Vocalist Nicolas Bearde lends his expressive baritone to three tracks (Bill Withers’ r&b classic “Use Me” and the Gershwin standards “Summertime” and “Embraceable You”), bolstering the album’s emotional content and intensifying its portrayal of human vulnerability. Hard Times deals with classic themes and indulges in straightforward blowing without pretense—an honest, courageous approach that just plain feels good.