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Hod O'Brien Trio: Live at Blues Alley, Set 1 & 2

Ernest Barteldes By

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It was a clear November night at Jazz Standard when Hod O'Brien's trio appeared, backing the pianist's wife, vocalist Stephanie Nakasian. The set opened with an instrumental theme in which Jimmy Wormworth sat in on drums. On the following number, Nakasian took the stage while Ron Vincent took his place behind his kit. The band quickly moved on into a medley of '30s songs that included "Pretty Bubbles and "Blowing Bubbles.

One very impressive song was Jimmy Rowles' "Baby Don't You Quit Now, in which the singer imitated a trombone almost to perfection. Hod's band remained mostly in the background, with the pianist serving mostly as a sidekick to Nakasian, who went a bit overboard with the jokes, which sometimes weren't exactly funny, possibly culled from private moments that might have been humorous for the players. There was, however, plenty of space for improvisation, and more than once bassist Steve Gilmore had a chance to show his chops.

The band took a more dramatic approach in the bossa nova-ish "Escapade, whose lyrics were written by William Benton, who was in the audience that night. Nakasian did some wonderful Ella-inspired scatting on "Into Each Life a Little Rain Must Fall, trading riffs with O'Brien, who improvised with his right hand while the other musicians remained silent.

Hod O'Brien Trio

Live At Blues Alley - First Set

Reservoir Music
2005

On the two Blues Alley albums, Hod O'Brien plays instrumentally with no vocal participants. The albums were recorded during the same night at the DC venue but released separately. On the first set, the leader breezes through compositions by some of his favorite pianists, some of them a bit obscure, such as "Frog's Legs, a song by Joe Zawinul in tribute to Ben Webster, and "Thespian, a song by Freddie Redd. He shares the spotlight well with bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington, who get to show their chops during the songs. The key tracks on First Set would undoubtedly be "Bye Bye Blackbird and "Just In Time, two well-known classics that the trio make their own.

Hod O'Brien Trio

Live At Blues Alley - Second Set

Reservoir Music
2005

The second set brings another blend of well-known songs and some more obscure songs. The music of Billy Strayhorn is remembered twice—first, the trio performs "Snibor, a song the pianist wrote but that was only released by Duke Ellington after its writer's passing. He also revisits "Take The A Train, which is arguably not only Ellington's best-known recording but also Strayhorn's better-known composition. Two tracks to pay attention to are Sonny Rollins' "Pent Up House, which features a drum solo by Kenny Washington, and Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood, a showcase for the talents of bassist Ray Drummond.

The two albums should someday be released as a two-disc record, which would be a logical thing to do. In the meantime, both releases capture a great trio during what was certainly a memorable night.


Tracks and Personnel

Live At Blues Alley - First Set

Tracks: Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before; Frog's Legs; Thespian; It's Love; Lullaby Of The Leaves; Tangerine; Bye Bye Blackbird; Just In Time.

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

Live At Blues Alley - Second Set

Tracks: Pent-Up House; Snibor; How About You; Little Niles; Love Letters; In A Sentimental Mood; Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me; Take The A Train.

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


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