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While too many critics continue to carp about the “reactionary ideology of neoconservative hardboppers” I take great pleasure in witnessing the constant development of the demanding art form and the astounding personal growth of the best of idiom’s progressive young players. Pianist David Hazeltine and the members of his excellent quartet, saxophonist Eric Alexander, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth, are unquestionably four of the finest purveyors of the genre, highly respected members of the jazz community whose dues have been paid in full. Their combined unrelenting commitment to the music and their individual devotion to the development of the technical proficiency required to play it skillfully are indicative of the vitality of the New York jazz scene as regularly witnessed in clubs like the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Standard and especially Smoke, where on any given night listeners can usually hear at least one of them swinging hard with like-minded colleagues.
Milwaukee-born Hazeltine has been a New Yorker for more than a decade now and slowly but surely he’s taken his place as one of the city’s most in demand musicians, one whose gifts as a composer and arranger are commensurate with his facility at the keyboard. The talented pianist’s primary influence is clearly the great Cedar Walton and he shares his role model’s compositional skill for creating memorable melodies, as well as the ability to breathe new life into popular old songs. Manhattan Autumn is strikingly similar in sound and spirit to Walton’s first classic Eastern Rebellion/Timeless recording, with Alexander rivaling the robust strength of George Coleman’s powerful tenor and Washington and Farnsworth creatively replicating the swinging rhythms of Sam Jones and Billy Higgins.
Hazeltine’s original opener “A Walk in the Park” is a brisk outing with a short introduction reminiscent of Walton’s arrangement of Joe Henderson’s “Mode for Joe” in front of a fresh melody molded from Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane.” It’s followed by the leader’s bright take on Mancini and Mercer’s usually moody “Moon River.” “Blues on the 7,” another Hazeltine composition, is a tricky up-tempo test of the quartet’s ability to bop hard. The group’s decidedly unhurried interpretation of Burt Bacharach’s beautiful “The Look of Love” is a clear indication of the leader’s affection for the classic stylings of Ahmad Jamal, while Alexander’s “On the Marc” is a raucous race through a maze of classic rhythm changes
Next up is “Uptown After Dark,” an exotic excursion by Hazeltine evocative of another of the pianist’s influences, Horace Silver. The group’s respectful reading of “Ask Me Now,” Monk’s clever reconstruction of the once popular “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” precedes the date’s closer, a fresh, irreverent look at Jimmy van Heusen’s “Nancy (With A Laughing Face).” Some will be quick to criticize this disc for being “nothing new.” These musicians aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel; they’re just assuring us that the old one still rolls as smoothly as ever.
Track Listing: 1. A Walk in the Park (Hazeltine) - 6:20
2. Moon River (Mancini/Mercer) - 7:10
3. Blues on the 7 (Hazeltine) - 5:25
4. The Look of Love (Bacharach/David) - 5:38
5. On the Marc (Alexander) - 7:56
6. Uptown After Dark (Hazeltine) - 7:14
7. Ask Me Now (Monk) - 6:33
8. Nancy (With the Laughing Face) (Silvers/VanHeusen) - 9:22
Personnel: Eric Alexander - Tenor Saxophone;
Peter Washington - Bass;
David Hazeltine - Piano;
Joe Farnsworth - Drums.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.