Sharp Nine: Tardo Hammer and David Hazeltine
This spring, producer Mark Edelman, proprietor of Sharp Nine Records, shepherded these two dates (his boutique bop label's 39th and 40th) through Brooklyn's Systems Two studio (kudos for splendid balance and clarity by Mike Marciano) and they hew to the 12-year old label's evolving house style. Certain similarities are obvious: strong piano playing, composition-oriented leaders; solid performances in a cool and earnest post-bop style; familiar faces of a coterie that keeps its circle small; same firm (if not quite 'house') rhythm team of bassist Jon Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth. The label's sharp point what's the point of each release? is evidenced here in Tardo Hammer's trio working through the Tadd Dameron book and David Hazeltine's standard-framed four-tune suite indirectly honoring the muses of Cedar Walton and Buddy Montgomery.
Hammer plays Dameron's succulent, crisp melodies on Look Stop & Listen most sadly and unwisely neglected standards from prime bebop era with easy grace and a not-too-smooth, thorny elegance. A true democracy prevails. Sassy fours (even twos, as on "Super Jet ) with Farnsworth's tuneful toms and crisp stick-work crop up on eight of ten tracks, while Webber pumps along famously, digging into his equally plentiful solos (sweet ballad "Dial B for Beauty , chipper "Squirrel , humalong "Hot House , lyrically inspired "If You Could See Me Now , zippy closer "Flossie Lou ). Among other lovelies, the elegant "Smooth As The Wind evokes the soaring grace of Blue Mitchell's so-named Riverside album with strings.
David Hazeltine's The Inspiration Suite frames his foursquare and forthright suite with right-minded far-from-Broadway tunes ("I Should Care , "My Ideal as an introspective piano musing) and caps it with strong tunes by honorees Walton (the smooth if shruggy "Shoulders ) and Montgomery (upstanding but wriggly "Personage of Wes ). Warm harmonies and blends characterize Hazeltine's charts in the suite, while texturally Eric Alexander's lean, sinewy tenor sax plays keenly opposite Joe Locke's orotund vibraphonic brilliance that bubbles to the surface like tête de cuvée Champagne. The pianist's comping and sense of structure hold all reins in hand through the taut turnarounds of "Motivation , the ambling loose-limbed "Reverence , the tricky, potent "Insight and sassy 6/8 "Gratitude .
Tracks and Personnel
Look Stop & Listen
Tracks: Focus; Look Stop & Listen; Smooth as the Wind; Dial B for Beauty; The Squirrel; Hot House; Super Jet; If You Could See Me Now; Our Delight Flossie Lou.
Personnel: Tardo Hammer: piano; John Webber: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.
The Inspiration Suite
Tracks: I Should Care; Don't Walk Away; The Inspiration Suite: Motivation-Reverence-Insight-Gratitude; My Ideal; Shoulders; Personage of Wes.
Personnel: David Hazeltine: piano; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Joe Locke: vibes; John Webber: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums; Daniel Sadownick: percussion (tracks 2, 4, 9).