Paul Hofmann: Topsy Turvy (1999)
By mixing things up with tracks that feature himself solo, in duet with either drummer Michael Melito or bassist Paul Gill, in a traditional piano trio form, and in quartet with saxophonist Grant Stewart, Hofmann keeps things varied and interesting. Hofmann bookends the set with his own “Hi-Ya” and Monk’s “Bye-Ya,” both duets with Melito. From the outset Hofmann demonstrates an economical style that belies a deeper facility. His touch is light, and he swings unabashedly on tunes like Bud Powell’s “Topsy Turvy.” He is a humble accompanist, always leaving plenty of space for Stewart on the five quartet tracks.
Like Hofmann, Gill and Melito are relaxed players who provide a confident anchor, whether it be on the swinging “Ivy,” the Latin-tinged “Listen to My Heart," or the tender Ellington ballad, “Do Not Disturb.” Also, like Hofmann, they are concise players; not a single note is wasted.
Hofmann’s own compositional style melds perfectly with lesser-known material like Herbie Hancock’s “Tribute to Someone” and Sonny Clark’s “Nicely,” both played together as “Blue Note Medley,” reminding us how strong a hard bop player Hancock was when he recorded for that label in the ‘60s. Hofmann’s own composition, “Blues for Red,” a tribute to Red Garland, fits so comfortably beside the Hancock and Clark tunes that it could easily have come from the same period.
The album doesn’t break any new ground, but that is not Hofmann’s intention. Instead, he demonstrates that there is a way to merge new material with old; while there is a firm sense of tradition here, the recording also feels completely modern, and proves that mainstream jazz doesn’t have to be about pushing the envelope. It can be about capturing a sense of time and place, giving it a contemporary spin that ensures that the tradition is kept alive.
Topsy Turvy asserts that there is still a place for this music; whether it be in the concert hall, the club or the comfort of one’s own home. As long as there are artists like Hofmann who are prepared to explore lesser-known paths while, at the same time, paving new roads in the same direction this music will always be relevant.
Visit MHR Records on the web.
Track Listing: Part One: Hi-Ya; Topsy Turvy; Lush Life; In the Tradition
Part Two: Listen to My Heart; The Feeling is Mutual; Ivy; I Will Be Right There
Part Three: Blue Note Medley: Nicely/A Tribute to Someone; Blues for Red
Part Four: Bartok; Do Not Disturb; Bolivia; Body and Soul; Bye-Ya
Personnel: Paul Hofmann (piano), Grant Stewart (tenor saxophone), Paul Gill (bass), Michael Melito (drums)
Record Label: MHR Records