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David Hazeltine: Close to You

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: David Hazeltine: Close to You
New York's a tough town. To be seen and heard among the scores of would-be jazz musicians you have to possess talent that is beyond the everyday and a voice that sets you apart from the crowd. Since settling permanently in the Big Apple in 1992, David Hazeltine has done just that. He's consistently in demand as a sideman, works regularly with the hard bop sextet One For All, and leads his own ensembles to boot. Over the years, he's gigged with an all-star listing of jazz celebrities too numerous to mention while recording regularly both as a sideman and a leader of his own ensembles, including the famed Classic Trio with Peter Washington and Louis Hayes.

Hazeltine's own albums for Criss Cross, beginning with 1997's How It Is (Criss Cross 1142) and leading up to Good-Hearted People (Criss Cross 1210), have found the pianist building a solid repertoire while adapting the music to different sized ensembles, giving each date its own particular character and charm. It's his knack for arranging pop tunes and standards though that has helped forge a particular individualistic style that finds his charts in demand by his peers. From Earth, Wind & Fire's "Reasons" to The Stylistics' "Betcha By Golly Wow," Hazeltine has put a new face on many contemporary chart toppers.

Along the way, the pianist has also had a hand at redefining several numbers from the Burt Bacharach cannon including "What the World Needs Now," "The Look Of Love," "I Say a Little Prayer," and "Alfie." David says, "Bacharach is one of my favorite composers and I like to do tributes to him. I like the way his tunes go because they fit my style of arranging very well. They're simple enough and yet they have enough interesting movement of their own that when I do something with them they retain the feeling of the original, but yet are open to [new] possibilities."

Adding further to his book of Bacharach charts, Hazeltine takes a stab at another iconic gem from the early '70s, "Close To You," which also happens to be the title of this first trio session for Criss Cross and his fifth effort for the label overall. Two of the busiest men in the business, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth complete a stellar trio that really needs little in the way of introductions to followers of the contemporary jazz scene. "I haven't done a trio record for a while with these guys, but we play together all the time in the context of One For All and it's a great rhythm section," Hazeltine explains. "They're my favorite guys to make music with just because of the swing feeling they have."

Whether you recall fondly teams such as Sam Jones and Louis Hayes or Ron Carter and Tony Williams, the fact that familiarity from a musical standpoint breeds music of outstanding complexity and richness is undeniable. The problem is that there are less opportunities these days for jazz musicians to develop these kinds of ties due to a plethora of extenuating circumstances, not the least of which being the sheer economical constraints that face today's musicians. As such, it's quite remarkable that Hazeltine, Washington, and Farnsworth have been able to consistently develop their singular voice while contributing to the success of One For All, the group being a miracle in and of itself considering that each of its members is a jazz leader in his own right.

A tour-de-force of shifting tempos and styles, "Close To You" gets the session underway while pulling out all the stops. "It's got 6/8, Latin, and swing," David explains, although apparently it wasn't all smooth sailing in getting this one down on tape. "We did about four takes of that and didn't like any of them. Then, we were finishing the date when I saw Farnsworth over in the drum booth waving the chart and saying 'Let's try this one more time now.' So we got a good take that last time." This track belongs to Hazeltine pretty much all the way, save for a crackling bit from Farnsworth near the end.

With its title making reference to the apartment of two of Hazeltine's close friends, "Waltzing at Suite One" is one of four originals penned for this session. "We hang out there a lot, although I don't think we've actually ever waltzed there," says David with a chuckle. For variety, Washington takes the spotlight up front, throwing in some juicy double stops along the way. Also listen for the pianist's quote from "Rhapsody in Blue" which he sagaciously uses as a kernel of inspiration throughout the development of his own solo.

An exacting sense of purpose and swing is immediately made tangible as the trio interprets "I'm Old Fashioned" as if they've been playing it together for years. "That's an arrangement that I've had for awhile," says David. "I arranged it for a Steve Davis date called Portrait In Sound and I've always wanted to record it in a trio setting." In addition to the piano's opening gambit, Washington gets a solo spot and David and Joe exchange eight bar phrases before the head returns.

David had always wanted to record "You Don't Know What Love Is" since it's one of his favorite minor ballads, but the impetus for this version came about just by chance. "I did it with Marlena Shaw and recorded it this summer over in Japan. At the end of the date, we wanted to do something with just the two of us and we decided to do that tune. It came out so great that I had it in my mind to record it again." As Hazeltine develops his solo, the tempo picks up and a nice twist is added when the bridge gets a bossa groove just prior to the final statement of the melody.

Dedicated to David's girlfriend, "Barbara" is in a more reflective mood with Farnsworth's brushes adding just the right support. "I kind of had this standard "Who Cares?" in mind when I started to write it, which is on one of my favorite Cannonball [Adderley] records-Know What I Mean?with Bill Evans. So it's similar to that, but not exactly the same."

Widely admired by his fellow musicians in the know, Buddy Montgomery remains one of Hazeltine's main influences. "Buddy's Tune" is a brisk bossa nova written by Montgomery that David finds particularly attractive. "He was at my house a few years ago and was playing some stuff. I happened to have a tape recorder near by so I recorded him playing that. Over the years I've listened to it again and again and decided that I just had to record it."

One need not look far to decipher the individual paid homage in "Blues For P. Wash." "I wanted a little blues on the record and also to feature Peter where he'd play the melody along with me," says David. Fittingly, Washington is up first with a solo, followed closely by Hazeltine. Then piano and drums trade fours leading to a reprise of the opening melody.

Another original composition, "Minor Adjustment" recalls in its first few notes the beginning phrase of the Horace Silver line "Nica's Dream." Everyone on hand gets to speak their piece, with Farnsworth's coming in the eights that he shares with David prior to the end of the piece. "This tune originally started with that bass line and progression and I tried to write a melody over that."

"I'll Only Miss Her When I Think Of Her" is a ballad interpretation of a Jimmy Van Heusen composition that Hazeltine finds enticing not only for its musical content but for its poetic lyrics as well. "I learned it from an older record by West Coast singer Stephanie Haynes with Cedar Walton and I believe it's a record of all Jimmy Van Heusen tunes," David explains. "Not a lot of people know this one; it's a more obscure tune."

An extended romp through "Willow Weep For Me" stirs things up for the concluding performance of the date. "I've been playing that tune like that for many years and thought it would be a nice swinging thing because most people usually play it as a ballad."

Thus marks the close of this latest installment from Hazeltine and his associates, and yet it wasn't without its share of sweat and tears. "Usually I tend to arrange things last minute and it's a struggle for me to get through it because I don't write the piano music. So everything I play I have to try to play from memory. Even the night before, I'm still working on details." Of course the magic of the illusion is that he makes it all sound so easy.


Liner Notes copyright © 2024 C. Andrew Hovan.

Close to You can be purchased here.

C. Andrew Hovan Contact C. Andrew Hovan at All About Jazz.
An avid audiophile and music collector, Chris Hovan is a Cleveland-based writer / photographer / musician.

Track Listing

Close To You; Waltzing At Suite One; I'm Old Fashioned; You Don't Know What Love Is; Barbara; Buddy's Tune; Blues For P. Wash; Minor Adjustment ; I'll Only Miss Her; Willow Weep For Me.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Close to You | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Criss Cross


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