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Jeff Hamilton Trio at Arizona Musicfest

Patricia Myers By

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Jeff Hamilton Trio
Fairway House at Grayhawk
Arizona Musicfest
Scottsdale, Arizona
February 13, 2014

The Jeff Hamilton Trio's performance at Arizona Musicfest was aptly and enticingly billed as "Paragon of Groove," and the combo delivered that groove from first note to last.

Hamilton's precise power and nuanced sensitivity was evident throughout the two-set concert, a perfect fit with the elegance of pianist Tamir Hendelman and the rich timbre of acoustic bassist Christoph Luty. Their 13-year coalition conveys a merger of minds that think and play as one, enriched by their individual skills.

Much of the evening's repertoire was from the trio's album Great American Songs: Through the Years (Capri Records, 2013), first released in Japan. Among the tracks was the gently solid swing of "Falling in Love with Love," the trio's precise integration accomplished without a written chart in sight. Hamilton's legendary brushwork was impeccable, Hendelman laying down stop-tempo segments in tandem with Luty's inventive bass lines and artful bowing work.

"It Could Happen to You" was an up-tempo Luty arrangement that showcased Hendelman's dynamic energy and Hamilton's light touch with sticks. The ballad form of "Tenderly" featured the leader's shaded cymbal work, underscoring the pianist's graceful explorations and Luty's deep resonance. Hamilton worked the toms on "Thou Swell," the 1927 song rearranged by Hendelman as a samba—Hamilton noting that his mentor, bassist Ray Brown, once told him, "If you do someone else's material, put a new dress on it."

Excerpting "Hat's Dance" from Red Sparkle (Capri Records, 2012), Hamilton told the tale behind the lively chart co-written with Hendelman as a tribute to the drummer's 90-year-old mother, Harriet (nicknamed Hat). For Harold Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee," Luty played triple stops on the intro, setting up space for his colleagues to improvise on the changes.

Luty played solo for the verse that opened "Someone to Watch Over Me," followed by eloquent arco work for Hendelman's prayer-like delivery. The contrasting shuffle blues of "I Love Being Here with You" was sparked by Hamilton's delivery of his special move of striking the right cymbal in a down stroke that was quickly followed by an upstroke on the half-beat, Hendelman working in blocked-hands mode toward an Oscar Peterson-style finishing flourish.

Post-intermission, the trio played Hendelman's stylish arrangement of "You Took Advantage of Me" that gave the opening solo to Luty, then was explored by Hendelman's sophisticated moves, and finally turned over to Hamilton to replicate the melody line via his remarkable command of the brushes. The drummer launched "All or Nothing at All" at warp speed, Hendelman creating an exciting dual-octave segment and then exuberantly leaping the octaves of the grand piano to complete a remarkable solo.

A reggae treatment of "On and On," also from the Red Sparkle album, was Kenny Rankin's 1977 pop-vocal hit that Hamilton said he remembered hearing performed by Jamaica-born pianist Monty Alexander. The drummer introduced "How Long Has This Been Going On?" by playing only with his hands, setting the mood for Hendelman and Luty's delicate interplay to create a chamber-jazz feel reminiscent of pianist George Shearing.

The trio worked a bevy of time changes into "Like Someone in Love" and filled the chart with multiple musical quotes, the three genius musicians feeding off one another to embed a half-dozen references including "I Won't Dance," "Bolero," "Duke's Place" and "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." The closing number was "Blues for Stephanie," an original from the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra book that had Hendelman injecting a bit of stride style. (That big band, co-led by bassist John Clayton and Hamilton with Hendelman on piano, will perform March 7th at the Mesa Arts Center, where Clayton is this season's artist-in-residence.)

For the fourth year, non-profit Arizona Musicfest will award its annual $2,500 scholarship to a graduating high school senior who has excelled in music performance.

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