The Great Jazz Trio: At the Village Vanguard Vol. 2

John Kelman By

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With Test of Time continuing its archival reissue series of '70s Inner City and East Wind label recordings previously only available as expensive Japanese imports, this is a great time to be thinking about taking out a second mortgage on the home. Previous releases, including titles by Andrew Hill, Sheila Jordan, and Art Farmer have been uniformly strong, with Test of Time's DSD Mastering Process bringing out all the subtleties of the original masters, making them arguably the definitive issues.

Amongst the strongest of the first batch of releases was At the Village Vanguard, culled from two evening performances at the legendary New York City club in February of 1977 by arguably the best, but sadly short-lived incarnation of pianist Hank Jones' longstanding Great Jazz Trio featuring bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. Out of the six hours recorded, sufficient material was considered strong enough to result in not one, not two, but three albums—the final instalment, At the Village Vanguard Again, will be released on August 23, 2005. The material demonstrates just how consistently inventive this trio was, and these two evenings were especially magical.

Carter and Williams had a shared history as part of Miles Davis' more outward-reaching second quintet in the mid-'60s, so they had just the right combination of traditionalism and outside-the-box spontaneity to make this set—consisting of one Charlie Parker tune, one standard, a Davis tune, and a Williams original—a potent blend of reverence and liberated musical thinking. While Jones' more mainstream approach keeps things closer to the centre, he's also open-minded enough to respond to Williams' more directed interplay on the medium-tempo swing of the album closer, Williams' "Lawra. Carter's deeply resonant tone, insistent sense of groove, and impeccable way of combining unassailable time with harmonic responses to Jones' lyrical yet often unpredictable choices, transform even the more conventional bebop of Parker's "Confirmation, making it relevant and timeless.

While Miles never recorded "Nardis himself, his composition has been covered by dozens of artists from Anthony Braxton to Ralph Towner; here it rivals "Lawra as the high point of the set. Carter's solo, where Williams' unfailing ears result in the two finding remarkable and almost endlessly varied nexus points, is the perfect confluence of rhythm and melody. Williams demonstrates the kind of light and delicately-nuanced touch and thematic mindset that, while antithetical to his more propulsive fusion work, is always impressive.

Like the first volume, Vol. 2 clocks in at under forty minutes. While Test of Time's intention is to release the original recordings "as is, one wonders why they didn't simply collect all three volumes and release them as a two-CD set. Still, that's a minor quibble; both the first At the Village Vanguard and Vol. 2 are nicely self-contained, each with its own arc. On the strength of both recordings, it's good news indeed that the release of At the Village Vanguard Again is only a month away.

Track Listing: Confirmation; Wind Flower; Nardis; Lawra

Personnel: Hank Jones (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (drums)

Title: At the Village Vanguard Vol. 2 | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Test of Time Records


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