This is hard bop pianist Jon Mayer’s fifth release since he resurfaced on the Los Angeles music scene in the early ‘90s after more than twenty years away from jazz, having last been sighted and heard in the Big Apple at the Jazz Gallery June 26th. He first made his mark here in the late ‘50s and the ‘60s playing with Kenny Dorham, Tony Scott, Pete LaRoca [Sims], Jackie McLean and John Coltrane, among many others, while in his late teens and 20s.
Mayer recorded The Classics in New York last year with his trio, featuring bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Willie Jones III. It consists of eleven tunes that he considers jazz chestnuts—each with a shelf life, harmonic quality and a melodic direction that invite fresh exploration every time out, even though some may have been neglected by the public at large, or other artists.
The trio format brings freshness—and a fresh examination—to the gems. And “gems” is the intended word here, for the songs sparkle under Mayer’s hands. There is no overplaying, no excess. Every note fits the song like a hand-tailored suit. These are not musical clothes off the rack. Reid and Jones fit well with Mayer— always supportive, unobtrusive at times, and solidly matching his swinging energy.
Mayer’s “classics” include Miles Davis’ “Solar,” Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty,” Jackie McLean’s “Little Melonae,” Horace Silver’s “Ecaroh,” Joe Henderson’s Latin-tinged “Recordame” and Benny Carter’s “Souvenir,” a mere pup in comparison, having been written in 1987. This salute to friends and heroes also includes Sonny Rollins’ “Solid,” Bill Evans’ “Very Early,” Kenny Barron’s “Voyage” and Tadd Dameron’s “Lady Bird.” Gordon Parks’ “Don’t Misunderstand” is better known as a vocal vehicle, but as a solo piano instrumental it’s a poignant masterpiece on which Mayer makes the keyboard sing.
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This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .