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It's only about half way through the year, but this one proves to be strong contender for one of the best releases of 1999. The little label that could out of Westfield, New Jersey keeps cranking out some vigorous and very substantial music and so it should come to no surprise that they would be behind this very imaginative endeavor. Of the two front men here, vibraphonist Joe Locke probably carries more name recognition. He's recently recorded a string of critically-acclaimed and commercially-viable dates for Fantasy and is one of the most tasteful vibes players of his generation. Pianist Hazeltine is less known but has released two previous dates as a leader for Sharp Nine, one for Criss Cross Jazz, and is a vital member of the cooperative unit One For All that features tenor phenom Eric Alexander.
Mutual Admiration Society is an apt title for this session. It is clear that the music presented came from a meeting of the minds between Locke and Hazeltine. Among a few well-chosen standards, there are three originals by Locke and two by Hazeltine, with the latter providing the arrangements throughout. It is no exaggeration to state that as superb as his pianistic talents are, Hazeltine's arranging and composing skills put him in a league of his own. One need look no farther than the album's centerpiece, Burt Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer." The slow and relaxed treatment, complete with altered harmonies, is one of the prettiest and most profound things heard in recent memory. Hazeltine also has mastered a way with breaking up the conventional swing beat. He does this by using vamps, repeated ostinatos in the bass, and various other methods that catch the ear and make this music so rewarding even after countless listens.
Locke is also one hell of a musician. His opening "K-Man's Crew" bristles with excitement and announces that this session will proceed far removed from your typical hard bop fare. A thoroughly gorgeous and memorable line, his "Diamonds Remain" is a touching tribute to the late Don Grolnick and one of the highlights of the session. It should also be told that all of this couldn't be carried out successfully without the exemplary contributions of bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Billy Drummond. Each man is responsive and willing to embellish whatever mood is established by the front line partners. Drummond, in particular, has become a modern day Elvin Jones in that he plays with such musical conviction and strength and yet also manages to tailor his dynamics to each situation he finds himself involved in. We will certainly being hearing more from him because he has already become a master in every sense of the word.
Nothing further really needs to be stated because, like so much of the significant and quintessential jazz that we have on tape, the magic of this set really defies written description and evaluation. It really needs to be heard to be appreciated. Anyone want to join me in becoming a member of this mutual admiration society?
Track Listing: K-Man's Crew, I Say a Little Prayer, Can We Talk?, The Haze Factor, Tears in Her Heart, Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year, Diamonds Remain, For All We Know
Personnel: Joe Locke, vibes; David Hazeltine, piano; Essiet Essiet, bass; Billy Drummond, drums