Nearly a decade ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Hammer Time, the impressive debut album by (as I wrote then) an "enormously talented" young pianist, Tardo Hammer. While we've both grown older since then, I am happy to report that at least one of us (guess who) has continued on an upward path. Hammer's latest album for Sharp Nine Records (his fourth) is another handsome feather in his cap. The lively and engaging session is devoted entirely to music by the remarkable pianist, composer and early bopper Tadd Dameron, several of whose compositions have become Jazz standards.
For one who was on the cutting edge of Jazz when Diz, Bird and others were rewriting the rulebook, Dameron was quite the melody-maker, which is one reason why so many of his songs have stood the test of time and are still being played today, albeit seldom with greater warmth and understanding than Hammer marshals. One has the feeling that if Dameron were still alive this is the way he'd be playing them too. Stylistically, Hammer is from the Hank Jones / Tommy Flanagan / Barry Harris school of euphonic resourcefulness: placing charm and accessibility above self-absorption and never inflating his remarks when forbearance will suffice.
That's not to imply there's no fire in Hammer's belly. He can scorch the keyboard when necessary, but always ignites his bonfires with utmost care. And when the script calls for finesse, as on the ballads "Dial B for Beauty" or "If You Could See Me Now," Hammer lays bare an abundant storehouse of graceful exposition. For rhythmic support, he leans on two veteran sidemen who have in effect become Sharp Nine's "house rhythm section" bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworthneither of whom gives him cause for concern while carrying out his assignment with proficiency and assurance. It's especially pleasing to hear Farnsworth use brushes so adeptly, as he does on several numbers, ably balancing the rhythm while remaining discreetly in the background. He's an engaging soloist too, as is Webber.
Even though Hammer leads a trio, one is tempted to call it a quartet, as the album would surely be less enjoyable were it not for the impressive recording, mixing and mastering skills of Mike Marciano who helps make it come alive. Great sound, a marvelous pianist and a world-class threesome presenting nearly an hour of splendid music by one of Jazz history's most renowned composers. It doesn't get much better than that.
Personnel: Tardo Hammer: piano; John Webber: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.