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Hank Jones: For My Father

John Kelman By

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Some musicians are pure paradox, their personalities in no way reflecting the way they play. Others find their personal characteristics inextricably intertwined with their musical ones—trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, guitarist Bill Frisell, and saxophone legend Wayne Shorter immediately come to mind.

Octogenarian pianist Hank Jones—the eldest and last surviving member of the Jones triumvirate that included trumpeter Thad, who passed away in '86, and drummer Elvin, who left us in '04—has always demonstrated a musical elegance that is completely in keeping with his affable and dignified persona. His latest recording, For My Father, manages to be even more relaxed and refined, largely due to his choice of musical partners—bassist George Mraz, who has never achieved the level of fame of a Dave Holland or Charlie Haden, but quietly continues to bring an instinctive sense of swing to every session; and drummer Dennis Mackrel, the least known of the three, who also uses subtle nuance and shading to interpret material that's been played countless times in ways that are familiar yet fresh. With all three demonstrating a complete devotion to the inner core of the songs they play, the album may pass by with gentle grace, but it's no less meaningful because of it.

Bookending a quartet of Ellington and Strayhorn classics—"Sophisticated Lady, "Johnny Come Lately, "Prelude to a Kiss, and "Lotus Blossom —Jones has created a programme that combines equally familiar standards, including "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and Monk's "Bemsha Swing, with lesser-known pieces like Al Foster's bossa-like "Paulette and Milt Jackson's ambling blues "SKJ. "Bemsha Swing, in fact, may be the best example of the trio's understated approach: more a wink and a nod than a guffaw.

That Jones, Mraz, and Mackrel can take a dozen medium-tempo pieces and create a programme that captivates from start to finish, is a testimony to their ability to imbue even the most well-heeled tune with a pure musicality and lyricism that just feels right. There's no excess to be found either—tunes range from three and a half to eight minutes, neither overstaying their welcome nor feeling hurried or prematurely cut short.

The playing is consistently inspired throughout, but Mackrel deserves special mention, if only because of his lesser-known status. A truly melodic drummer, and a rare one whose solos can almost be sung, Mackrel has seen his profile gradually increasing over the past fifteen years, at least amongst musicians, and he's one to keep an eye on.

For My Father is the kind of album that can pass by with deceptive ease; yet closer inspection reveals three musicians at the height of their craft, bringing depth and breadth to the music so effortlessly that one can't help but marvel at their restrained—yet certainly not constrained—approach to the musical mainstream.


Track Listing: Paulette; Bemsha Swing; Queen of Hearts; Sophisticated Lady; Johnny COme Lately; Prelude to a Kiss; Lotus Blossom; SKJ; Easy to Love; Because I Love You; Grace of God; Softly as in a Morning Sunrise

Personnel: Hank Jones (piano); George Mraz (bass); Dennis Mackrel (drums)

Title: For My Father | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Justin Time Records


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