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Sharp Nine Records

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Tenors Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart are every bit as good as guys recording for Blue Note or major labelsthe Joe Lovanos, the Joshua Redmans. Hazeltine and Hammer are great piano players. Period. —Marc Edelman, Sharp Nine
It's a scene of riches: a marigold-colored moon so bright and full it looks like a gold coin tossed into the end-of-summer sky, while skyscraper windows towering over New York City's Central Park glitter like diamonds.

But the real richness of this particular evening is in the music played by six musicians framed in this iconic Manhattan nightscape high above the park by the cinematic wide-screen windows of Dizzy's Club. After a rousing number, the group One For All's tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander steps out to solo in "Little Lucas, a moving piece he wrote for his young son that is featured on the band's latest recording, The Lineup, released by Sharp Nine Records.

All six of these same talented performers are heard not only together as One For All but also in various configurations with other musicians on diverse Sharp Nine recordings. While the music on the Sharp Nine label is often though not always studio-recorded, the aural experience of this live September 2007 show at "Jazz at Lincoln Center in the Time Warner complex is representative of the sure-fire clarity of sound and message of this label's offerings. Like the flame-hued moon outside Dizzy's and the melodies, harmonics and rhythms that swing inside this pretty paneled room, those signature sounds tend to be warm, bright, encompassing, inviting, immediate, and—always—"straight-ahead.

Founded by Marc Edelman a dozen years ago and counting, when this former insurance broker was seeking a new venue in which to play out his working life, Sharp Nine Records has released many recordings and has encouraged the careers of a substantial number of top-quality musicians, many active in New York and some of whom had been underdiscovered or underappreciated by other labels at the time Edelman introduced them. Sidemen also can get a chance to be leaders. The roster includes the excellent One For All-ers Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth who made their first recording (and follow-ups) for Sharp Nine in 1997. There are many others, to drop a few names: trumpeter Brian Lynch (Brian Lynch Meets Bill Charlap, 2003); vibraphonist Joe Locke and the Milt Jackson Tribute Band (Rev-evlation, 2005); pianist Anthony Wonsey (The Thang, 2005); drummer Ray Appleton and his sextet, with Slide Hampton (Killer Ray Rides Again, 1996), and alto saxophonists Ian Hendrickson-Smith (Up In Smoke! , live from the New York club Smoke, 2003) and Julius Tolentino (Just the Beginning, 2001). Edelman also opened his doors to vocalist/pianist Dena DeRose.

It's almost like a family, with members in various states of closeness or distance to home base at different points in their lives. Pianist Hazeltine, whose new release The Inspiration Suite features his own compositions in a dual tribute to Cedar Walton and Buddy Montgomery, has been in on the Sharp Nine mission literally from its conception, when the idea was barely a twinkle in Edelman's eye.

"I was playing at this little place in New Jersey and we met, says Hazeltine, who at the time had returned to the New York area from Milwaukee where he had resided for ten years. "Marc liked my playing and had been thinking of taking piano lessons. So he started ... He was a fan of my playing and he was wondering why no one had recorded me. In one of our lessons, I said, 'Why don't you just start a label and record me?'

"And he started thinking seriously about it.

Edelman sees that first night as fortuitous—as at the time he had young children and hadn't been out to hear live music for a while. But he had heard on the radio driving home from work that saxophonist Ralph Lalama whose playing he liked was appearing near home, so he went to check out the show.

First out of the gate of his new business was a CD featuring Lynch (Keep Your Circle Small), who had already been recorded but at that point didn't have a label. But the second offering was all Hazeltine's.

Many Hazeltine projects followed. They've led to The Inspiration Suite, featuring tenor Alexander, Joe Locke on vibes, Webber on bass, Farnsworth on drums and Daniel Sadownick on percussion. Hazeltine wrote a four-part piece dedicated to two of his favorite jazz pianists/composers, Walton and Montgomery. Other pieces he performs as well on this appealing exploration include Walton's own "Shoulders and Montgomery's "Personage of War.

Why focus on these two particular guys?

Hazeltine, who teaches at SUNY Purchase but once thought he'd become an engineer, says he appreciates "the concise and well-organized nature of Walton's piano work. "He articulates everything as if he's playing Bach. It's so elegant and eloquent, and succinct. It's the closest thing to perfection I've ever heard in jazz. And that's not to say it's not adventurous.


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