Some things just scream "quality : The hood ornament of a Mercedes, for example, or the sky-blue boxes used by Tiffany. In jazz, a sure sign of quality is the name "Rudy Van Gelder. Seeing the celebrated engineer in an album's liner notes meant that this was a record of quality, with a sound as crisp as fresh celery. How Little We Knowwhich Houston Person produced at Van Gelder's Engelwood, NJ, studiodefinitely has the sound, and if you're an avid fan of straight-ahead jazz, it also has the quality.
Jeff Hackworth comes from Buffalo, NY, which is better known for Hall of Fame football and hockey players. But it's also given jazz a few Hall of Famers (Lonnie Smith, Don Menza), and Hackworth's tenor sax is steeped in that same tradition. He developed his jazz side in Buddy Morrow's version of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and he got an education in the blues during his time with Matt "Guitar Murphy. Combine that background with the influence of tenor legend Person, and there's no way this disc could go any way but straight-ahead.
Teddy Edwards' "Sunset Eyes gets the bossa nova treatment, giving How Little a relatively festive start. Hackworth drives the tune right down the middle, referencing Stan Getz without embracing Getz' sleepy-cum-tipsy attitude. The tune is buoyed by Chip White's effervescent drums; White's playing is consistently interesting throughout the disc, whether he's pushing it hard on the lickety-split treatment of "All or Nothing at All or adding ethereal brushwork to the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein classic "Why Do I Love You.
Peter Washington's bass is at the front of the mix, something he didn't get on Bill Charlap's Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 2007). Washington's solos on the title track and on "All or Nothing are solid, but his foundation work is a major component of Hackworth and Person's quest to deliver a session that mirrors Van Gelder productions of the 1950s and 1960s.
Pianist Norman Simmons dutifully backs up Hackworth's conventional approach, though Simmons' solo on the wistful "Tenderly and his counter-solo on Ellington's "I'm Just a Lucky So-and-So have an intimacy Hackworth never quite achieves. Guitarist Peter Hand sits in on only four tunes, with his best solo moment occurring on another bossa, "How Am I to Know. But his interplay with Simmons on "They All Say I'm the Biggest Fool shows how much broader the disc would have been if there were three solo voices on the entire date.
There are no surprises on How Little We Know, but that is by design. If this had been released in 1957, it would have folded into the genre's mainstream without a peep. As it stands, Hackworth, Person and Van Gelder have delivered a disc that reminds us how it was before the music went electric and everything changed, for better or worse.
Sunset Eyes; How Little We Know; They All Say I
Jeff Hackworth: tenor sax; Norman Simmons: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Chip White: drums; Peter Hand: guitar (3, 6, 8, 10).
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