Hod O'Brien: Live at Blues Alley - Third Set, I'm Getting Sentimental Over You, I Hear a Rhapsody and Yardbird Suite

Ken Dryden By

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Hod O'Brien has more than paid his dues during a long jazz career that began during the height of the bop era in the '50s; He has been praised by fellow pianist Barry Harris (with whom he recorded a duo piano concert CD issued by Spice of Life) as "one of the pure bop pianists . The pianist took a decade-long hiatus to attend college between 1963 and 1973, but he returned to the jazz scene in the mid '70s stronger than ever. Now in his 70s, O'Brien has had a flurry of CDs coming out recently.

Hod O'Brien
Live at Blues Alley - Third Set

The third volume of songs from a trio gig Live at Blues Alley in Washington, DC is anything but a collection of leftover, second-choice performances, even though O'Brien explains in his liner notes that he initially rejected these tracks for the earlier two volumes and thought he heard various flaws within them. But most listeners will find it challenging to find any shortcomings by the pianist, as he responds to his superb rhythm team of bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington (his rhythm section of choice) by delivering eight exciting songs. Howard McGhee's rarely heard "Double Talk showcases a series of fiery exchanges between the leader and the drummer and the pianist finds new variations to an old favorite in his gently swinging treatment of the standard "It Could Happen to You . But the core of this live CD consists of five Tadd Dameron compositions, highlighted by a snappy rendition of the blues "The Squirrel and pulsating "Dameronia . Beautifully recorded with an attentive, respectful audience, this disc is clearly a keeper.

Hod O'Brien Trio
I'm Getting Sentimental Over You
Spice of Life

O'Brien is also accompanied by Drummond and Washington for a 2006 studio recording issued by the Japanese label Spice of Life as I'm Getting Sentimental Over You. This release focuses exclusively on standards and well-known jazz compositions that the musicians have likely been playing for decades. Even so, they are able to keep the songs sounding fresh, due in part to their familiarity with one another and the leader's potent arrangements. O'Brien opens "C Jam Blues with a pair of swinging improvised choruses before unveiling the head. "If I Should Lose You is reworked as a bossa nova, while Washington's terrific brushwork is an important ingredient in the breezy "Lover, Come Back to Me . O'Brien takes no prisoners with his rollicking interpretation of "In Walked Bud , while he showcases his trio mates prominently in "On a Misty Night . Recommended.

Hod O'Brien Quartet, Featuring Ted Brown
I Hear a Rhapsody
Blue Jack

O'Brien evidently has a strong following in Europe, due to the recent release of a pair of live, privately-recorded performances from various Holland club dates during the '80s and '90s by Blue Jack. I Hear a Rhapsody, a 1987 meeting with tenor saxophonist Ted Brown at Amsterdam's Bimhuis, is a productive blowing session, sticking primarily to favorite bop vehicles and standards popular during the '50s. O'Brien is the dominant soloist, while Brown's soft approach to his instrument is similar to Lee Konitz (with whom he worked on a number of occasions, while also a Lennie Tristano student). Bassist Jacques Schols and drummer John Engels, two accomplished Dutch musicians, round out the quartet. The obvious highlights include the romps through "Wee (Allen's Alley) and "Relaxin' at Camarillo (the latter featuring an inventive unaccompanied chorus by Brown), both almost obligatory numbers for any aspiring bop musician during its heyday. Other highlights include the driving take of "I Found a New Baby , a piece more associated with swing than bop, along with a laconic, extended "Body and Soul , a favorite that has stood the test of time and changes in styles. The liner notes are simply biographies of each musician and don't discuss how this meeting came to be, though Brown had used O'Brien on an earlier Criss Cross CD and recorded a few live tracks with him again for Criss Cross just two nights after this date in a different Amsterdam club. The fidelity of this recording is good, containing a bit of overmodulation and muddiness, but the performances should easily overcome any reservations by bop fans.

Hod O'Brien/Jon Eardley Quartet
Yardbird Suite
Blue Jack

O'Brien's sole meeting with trumpeter Jon Eardley, Yardbird Suite, a 1990 club date recorded at SJU-Huis, was more of an impromptu affair that took place as a result of bassist Hans Mantel setting up this one-shot performance in his hometown when the pianist was touring Europe with an off-night available and the trumpeter was already living and working on the continent. Although the two musicians were aware of one another by reputation, they had never met prior to this performance. They quickly discovered many mutual friends with whom they had played and developed a rapport that increased as the evening progressed. O'Brien, Mantel and drummer Bram Wijland begin the set with an extended trio treatment of "Will You Still Be Mine , then Eardley joins the fun for a blistering take of "Crazy Rhythm . They dive head-first into a galloping rendition of the title track with O'Brien and Eardley pushing one another to play to the best of their ability. The recording quality is comparable to O'Brien's I Hear a Rhapsody, sounding like an informal documentation of the music without being one of those dreaded 'live from the back row' tapings. Sadly, this may have been one of Eardley's last recordings, as he died the following year.

Tracks and Personnel

Live at Blues Alley - Third Set

Tracks: Double Talk; It Could Happen to you; Our Delight; The Squirrel; If You Could See Me Now; Dameronia; On a Misty Night; Easy Living.

Personnel: Hod O'Brien: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.

I'm Getting Sentimental Over You

Tracks: I Remember You; If I Should Lose You; I'm Getting Sentimental Over You; Too Late Now; C Jam Blues; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; Lover, Come Back to Me; On a Misty Night; In Walked Bud; April in Paris.

Personnel: Hod O'Brien: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.

I Hear a Rhapsody

Tracks: Jazz of the Two Cities; Trane's Slow Blues; I Found a New Baby; Wee (Allen's Alley); Body and Soul; I Hear a Rhapsody; Lullaby of the Leaves; Relaxin' at Camarillo.

Personnel: Hod O'Brien: piano; Ted Brown: tenor saxophone; Jacques Schols: bass; John Engels: drums.

Yardbird Suite

Will You Still Be Mine; Crazy Rhythm; What's New; Yardbird Suite; Out of Nowhere; Blue 'N Boogie.

Hod O'Brien: piano; Jon Eardley: trumpet; Hans Mantel: bass; Bram Wijland: drums.


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