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Scott Hamilton: Blues, Bop & Ballads

Ed Kopp By

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It's been 22 years since a sax prodigy named Scott Hamilton set the jazz world on its ear simply by favoring pure swing over post-bop and fusion. Now in his mid-forties, the talented tenor saxman remains true to his Muse. Blues, Bop and Ballads delivers everything its title promises, and stylishly.

This album swings with an easy grace, and Hamilton is his typical classy self throughout. The recording is a surprisingly wide-ranging collection considering its repertoire is mostly tunes from the 1940s. Hamilton enlists a larger-than-usual cast on this one, working in quintet and seven-piece formats.

A few of the 10 tracks straddle the line between bop and swing. The Coleman Hawkins-Theolonious Monk composition "I Mean You" is a fun excursion in knurly swing. Nat Adderly's "Wabash" is energized by the three-horn attack of Hamilton, Joel Helleny (trombone) and Greg Gisbert (trumpet). Gisbert delivers a slinky Roy Eldrige-style performance on Roy's composition "Fish Market." Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" is given a fast-tempo treatment, while Coleman Hawkin's "Stuffy" is sure to get your toes tapping.

As we've come to expect, Hamilton transports us to another realm with a couple of lush ballads. "Skylark" and the German pop song "Answer Me (My Love)" prove once again that Scott Hamilton is one of the most melodic saxophone balladeers in jazz. Veteran pianist Norman Simmons (whose resume includes Charlie Parker, Carmen McRae and Joe Williams) provides gorgeous accompaniment, most notably on "Answer Me (My Love)."

Blues fans will be pleased to find guitarist Duke Robillard on three tracks, while jazz fans may wonder about a bluesman playing with such reputable jazzers. But anyone who's heard Robillard's album Swing knows that Duke belongs. On Ike Quebeck's classic "Blue Harlem," Robillard emulates Tiny Grimes, a guitarist who championed the young Scott Hamilton.

Blues, Bop and Ballads finds an accomplished saxophonist playing some great jazz with his talented friends. You can't ask for much more out of a recording, and this is already one of my favorite Scott Hamilton releases.

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