David Hazeltine: The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander (2002)
Honing his skills to such a degree that it all sounds deceptively easy, David Hazeltine’s art is always in danger of being misunderstood because it’s not radically too far to the left or right. In other words, he’s a mainstream player working within the tradition. But you know it seems that these days you have to be weird or young to get any press, so Hazeltine often gets lost in the shuffle. And that’s a shame because if hard bop is your bag, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a tighter piano trio than the one heard here. But then add Eric Alexander, and the sparks couldn’t help but fly.
The selection of tunes is typically inspired, with a balance between originals and standards, although standards are any thing but that after Hazeltine lifts his creative pen and does some handiwork. The pop ditty here (in the lineage of “Betcha By Golly Wow,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” etc.) is Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet” and Louis Hayes’ backbeat shuffle sets just the right tone for what sounds like a natural jazz tune. Jimmy Webb’s “Didn’t We” also seems to be so ripe for rediscovery in this context, Alexander’s husky voice literally taking center stage, thanks to Mike Marciano’s luminescent engineering.
Dave’s two original lines are classy and hook-laden affairs that seem to bring out the best in everyone. “On the Boulevard,” in particular, finds Hazeltine and Alexander voicing the melody in a way that is so together they literally seem to breathe as one. Solo space is distributed equitably for all to partake, with “Hayes’ Phase” including a lengthy spot from the drummer. Washington is a model of strength as usual and his bass is recorded with just enough depth to get a ‘bottom’ across but as to not muddy things up entirely. Only one question here really- is a rematch planned for anytime soon?
Track Listing: On the Boulevard, O Grande Amor, Jessica's Night, Hayes' Phase, Knocks Me Off My Feet, East of the Sun, Didn't We, Our Delight
Personnel: David Hazeltine (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Louis Hayes (drums), Eric Alexander (tenor sax)