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The Great Jazz Trio: At the Village Vanguard Again

John Kelman By

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For the third and final reissue of performances culled from the Great Jazz Trio's three-night Village Vanguard run in '77—previously only available as expensive vinyl imports on the Japanese East Wind label—pianist Hank Jones, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams prove once again that standard material needn't imply standard delivery.

The first two volumes—At the Village Vanguard and At the Village Vanguard Vol. 2, both released earlier this year—augmented well-known material, ranging in style from overt bebop to more openended modality, with original compositions from Carter and Williams. But here the emphasis is completely on a standards repertoire, albeit a diverse one. Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave and Randy Weston's "Hi-Fly may have been relatively recent entries at that point, but both had already been heavily covered, and so their inclusion alongside the Ellington classic "Sophisticated Lady, Rodgers/Hart's well-heeled "My Funny Valentine, and Hammerstein/Romberg's timeless "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise is completely in context.

While Hank Jones isn't someone you'd associate with overt unpredictability, his devotion to retaining relevance and modernity within a mainstream context means that he remains fresh—and can still deliver the unexpected on occasion. His incredibly relaxed swing may give the programme an easy-going veneer, but that's not to say he's inconsequential or insubstantial. In a career that's now in its seventh decade, he's proven an ability to mesh with an almost infinite number of musical collaborators, from Charlie Parker and Lester Young to Sonny Rollins, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, and Anthony Braxton. Based on his sheer longevity, it's possible that he's played with more jazz legends than any other pianist. And yet, while he brings his own elegance and sense of musical refinement to every situation, he also manages to work with each in a way that respects and responds to the players around him.

Nowhere is this more evident than with this incarnation of the Great Jazz Trio, arguably the best in a long line of incarnations that continues to this day. Williams, in his early thirties at this point, had already created a reputation for being an envelope-pusher on his own recordings and those by more avant-leaning artists like Sam Rivers, Eric Dolphy, and Don Cherry; but equally, he'd proven himself to be completely conversant with the mainstream through associations with Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, and Joe Henderson. Equally, perhaps even more so simply as a result of a nearly ten-year age difference, Carter's already wide discography demonstrated his unfailing intuition and adaptability.

Like its predecessors, At the Village Vanguard Again falls unquestionably in the center, but the three players' ability to understand and work within the tradition, while bringing in more subtle shades from their vast experience, keeps the material alive and filled with interest. Choosing any one title is pointless, since they all have their own charms and strengths—fine documents of an incarnation of the Great Jazz Trio that, sadly, was all too short-lived.


Track Listing: Hi-Fly; Sophisticated Lady; Softly as in a Morning Sunrise; Wave; My Funny Valentine.

Personnel: Hank Jones: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Tony Williams: drums.

Title: At the Village Vanguard Again | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Test of Time Records


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