A teacher at Cambridge, Massachusetts' New School of Music when he's not leading singer Annie Ross' band, pianist Tardo Hammer has backed up stalwarts including Lou Donaldson and Abbey Lincoln, and was a member of the Art Farmer-Clifford Jordan Quintet. The last credit is the key here, because Jordan played on Live at the Theatre Boulognethe 1994 Soul Note release by Dameronia, Don Sickler and Philly Jo Jones' big-band tribute to legendary composer/arranger Tadd Dameron. How much influence Jordan had on Hammer's choice of material is unknown. What is evident on Look Stop & Listen is Hammer's own affinity for Dameronlike Hammer, a formidable pianist.
"Make little songs when you play was one of Dameron's mottos. That is borne out in the ideas within ideas found on much of the material here. Pieces take unexpected turns into completely different directions, only there is no shock value attached to the moves; in Dameron's mind, one concept "logically led to another. This is demonstrated on "Focus, which begins as a quietly frenetic run down a steep hill, and then suddenly swerves into a swinging blues strut. The change in altitude and attitude would be jarring if the music (and Hammer's performance) wasn't so awesome.
Hammer's piano is steeped in bebop, which is perfect for approaching Dameron's work: "Our Delight was a staple of the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, while "The Squirrel was a jam-session favorite in the days when the "new sound sprouted out of the minds of Dizzy and Bird. Hammer blasts out on both, using a wild right hand and an exemplary sense of harmony to bring life to the song's rich textures. He makes "Hot House bounce like a happy little ball, and has a deft, loving touch that brings the proper level of affection to the ballad "If You Could See Me Now (a big hit for Sarah Vaughan). He also casts "Dial B for Beauty into a sweet bebop-goes-west coast mode.
Given the total tonnage of ideas in Dameron's compositions, Hammer needed players with voices of their own to make this material complete. John Webber and Joe Farnsworth definitely fill the bill. Farnsworth plays with an unbridled joy on the title track (originally written for Philly Jo), and cuts his own creative swath on "Our Delight. Webber's bass is rich and lyrical on "Focus, and his solo on "If You Could See Me Now takes the piece's intimacy to an even deeper level.
Dameron's work may have brought color and texture to the big bands of Dizzy, Count Basie and Artie Shaw, but Look Stop & Listen shows that Dameron's music is best appreciated in a simpler setting. Hammer has painted a portrait with a soul, displaying the essence of Dameron without being overawed by his subject. The results are definitely suitable for framing.
Personnel: Tardo Hammer: piano; John Webber: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.