Octogenarian pianist Hank Jones' musical career has been consistently active since he first emerged in the late 1930s. However, Jones had an especially fruitful period as a leader during the 1970s, releasing no fewer than 25 albums between 1975 and 1980. Unfortunately, many of these recordings were originally released on Japanese labels like East Wind and Inner City, until now only available as expensive imports.
But 441 Records' Harvey Rosen created the subsidiary Test of Time Records to reissue many of East Wind and Inner City's best recordings in remastered form, yielding a veritable bonanza of new discovery for American audiences. In this, the imprint's first year, he's already released nearly a dozen titles, including Jones' The Great Jazz Trio and releases by Art Farmer, Andrew Hill, and Sheila Jordan.
The three Great Jazz Trio releases, culled from a three night run in 1977 at the Village Vanguard, found Jones stretching out liberally with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. But the precedent for the trio's modus operandi was already established in 1975 with Jones' Hanky Pankya trio disc with Carter and drummer Grady Tate combining well-heeled standards with songs from contemporary composers, including Jones himself. While The Great Jazz Trio tended towards lengthy exploration, Hanky Panky represents a more concise view; the majority of the album's nine tracks are at or under the five-minute mark.
Looking back, it's curious that Cartera member of Miles Davis' groundbreaking 1960s quintet with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Williamschose to stay more closely aligned with the jazz mainstream, rather than following the fusion direction of his ex-bandmates. But that needn't imply any kind of complacency, as Carter's warm, resonant tone and imaginative musical choicesfor example, the way he viscerally slides into phrasescombine with his intuitive sense of swing to make even often-covered tunes like "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" groove in a unique and evocative way. And on more contemporary material like Sara Cassey's minor blues "Wind Flower, Carter solos with lyrical and graceful economy.
Why Tate isn't spoken of in the same breath as Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Max Roach is a mystery. Fourteen years Jones' junior, he's got a discography almost as large, having played with everyone from Jimmy Smith to Wes Montgomery, Stan Getz, and Stanley Turrentine, equally capable of the gently funky swing of "Nothin' Beats an Evil Woman as the heartfelt balladry of "Warm Blue Stream.
Jones is as elegant here as always. While totally steeped in the mainstream, he manages to buck convention in the subtlest of ways, which is why, at 87, he's still in such high demand. By continuing to absorb the ever-evolving language of jazz, he remains at once contemporary and timeless. Hanky Panky, like Woody Shaw's recently-reissued Stepping Stones, is what the mainstream should be. Familiar? Yes, but with a sense of adventure that retains a freshness and undeniable sense of discovery.