Luqman Hamza: When a Smile Overtakes a Frown

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P>Indiana's Catalyst Productions continues to provide the platform for talented but well hidden Midwest jazz artists who seem to have fallen between the recording cracks. Now comes Luqman Hamza, long time Kansas City resident and well-known piano/vocalist (in local circles), with a distinguished recorded outing. Hamza is not new to this game by any means. At the age of 19, he was sitting in with Charlie Parker and at the ripe old age of 21, played with Miles Davis. He had a brief taste of national notoriety around this time with his "When You Surrender" Decca which made the charts.

Joined by another Catalyst recording artist, tenor sax man Willie Akins and Atkins' regular group, Hamza waltzes through a play list of 11 tunes, four of which he wrote. It's hard to pigeon hole Hamza's rich velvety voice. On some cuts, the influence of Nat King Cole is obvious recalling Nat's trio days, with fine guitarist Will Matthews assuming the role of Oscar Moore. The resemblance is particularly apparent on "Can't See for Looking" and his own "K.C. Cutie". Be clear, however, Hamza's interpretations are not imitations of Cole's, but clearly his own. On "Do I Hear a Waltz?", Hamza vocal sound is uniquely his own. The tunes he writes are romantic, sometimes sad but never maudlin, occasionally belying the title of the album. The smile doesn't always win. Nonetheless it's a pleasure to hear songs from a contemporary composer which aren't bleak and whiney.

Hamza gets outstanding support from Willie Akins and his confreres. Akins's tenor assumes a slightly different tone when accompanying a singer than on his own recently released album Alima. On the latter, his debt to John Coltrane prevails. Here he sounds closer to Stan Getz, with a bit of Charlie Parker added for seasoning, offering excellent solo work throughout. His playing on "Estate" and "Do I Hear a Waltz?" is especially telling. Simon Rowe shares piano duties with Hamza and Rowe is somewhat more accomplished at the instrument than the vocalist. But the contributions of Akins and Rowe notwithstanding, its guitarist Matthews who makes this album a success. In addition to providing a solid framework for Hamza's vocal efforts, his solos are intelligent and entertaining a la Tal Farlow.

Hopefully Catalyst will continue to bring to our attention these outstanding jazz artists. Encourage the company by purchasing this album.

Tracks:Can't See for Looking*; Expressing What She Means to Me; Golden Earrings; Estate; When a Smile Overtakes a Frown; Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams; When You Surrender*; That Awkward Age*; Do I Hear a Waltz?; The Summer Knows; K.C. Cutie*

Personnel: Luqman Hamza - Vocal/Piano*; Willie Akins - Tenor Saxophone; Will Matthews - Guitar; Simon Rowe - Piano; Willem von Hombracht - Bass; Montez Coleman - Drums

Record Label: Catalyst Productions

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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