In tandem with bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Jimmy Wormworth, Tardo Hammer carves out his own space in the bebop tradition—once again, proving that accomplished musicians still have a lot to say while mining established styles. The pianist doesn’t mess with the bebop blueprint; rather, he excels at executing its fundamental elements. The material on “Tardo’s Tempo” is a carefully selected mixture of selections from the American Popular Songbook, a few jazz standards, a Monk tune, plus one original. Neither franticly busy nor gratuitously virtuosic, most of the tracks move along at a pace that invites the listener to pick-up on telling details and appreciate the trio’s interaction.
The opening track, Hammerstein and Kern’s “Last Time I Saw Paris,” typifies their approach to the music and sets a very high standard for the rest of the record. Juggling a number of ideas while maintaining a coherent narrative thread, Hammer begins with an out-of-tempo solo that states the melody in an oblique fashion, rapidly changing from a stately to a lighthearted disposition, adding a nice stride feel during some of the bridge, and integrating the occasional, Monk-like dissonance.
The labyrinth-like opening sequence immediately evaporates as the bass and drums lay down a steady medium tempo bounce. This time Hammer’s take on the melody is sunny and optimistic, as he rides Wormworth’s strokes to the hi-hat and top cymbal. Encouraged by Irwin’s sturdy walking, the two-chorus solo that follows has a lot going on, yet its logical development is never marred by too much activity. For instance, while it comes as a surprise when a quote from “Thelonious” (which is the also the last track on the record) is followed by a smattering of fast, single note lines, Hammer soon returns to something more grounded that stays closer to the pulse.
Hammer’s interpretation of “Little Man (You’ve Had A Busy Day),” one of two ballads on the recording, is a fine example of a jazz musician turning a maudlin pop song into something memorable. He plays it three times, at first solo, and then twice with the bass and drums. Smartly juxtaposing improvised passages and snatches of the tune, each time Hammer takes more liberties without completely bending the melody out of shape or removing the sentiment, all the while evincing a decisive rhythmic drive.
Both cleaving to and providing counterpoint to the leader’s piano, the snap of Wormworth’s snare and melodic ring of his tom-toms animates the head of Tommy Flanagan’s “Minor Mishap.” As always, Hammer’s reliance on Irwin and Wormworth’s firm, expressive support—rather than just heedlessly playing over them—is an important element of his three-chorus solo. He swings purposefully and doesn’t feel the need to fill up all available space, taking the time to develop ideas, and frequently pausing in order to let a phrase sink in. There’s no dramatic arc to the course of the solo—instead, Hammer and company offer something more important; namely, a resolute momentum, simultaneously disciplined and flexible, which feels so good that you wouldn’t mind if they continued without end.
Tracks: 1. Last Time I Saw Paris; 2. I Waited For You; 3. Russian Lullaby; 4. Philly Twist; 5. Journey To Liechtenstein; 6. Minor Mishap; 7. Very Early; 8. Little Man (You’ve Had A Busy Day); 9. Thelonious.
Personnel: Tardo Hammer—piano; Dennis Irwin—bass; Jimmy Wormworth—drums.
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