Make a difference: Support jazz online

Support All About Jazz Your friends at All About Jazz are looking for readers to help back our website upgrade project. Of critical importance, this project will result in a vastly improved design across all devices and will make future All About Jazz projects much easier to implement. Click here to learn more about this project including donation rewards.

171

Frank Hewitt: Out of the Clear Black Sky

By

Sign in to view read count
Because jazz is so fundamentally wound up in its own history, it can often be difficult for fans to accept a new voice. The canon of jazz players is set in stone—how could there be a great voice that we have overlooked? However, there come times for just such paradigm shifts. Frank Hewitt prompts us to do so.

Out of the Clear Black Sky is the fifth Hewitt album released on Smalls Records, all of which are posthumous. For more than eight years preceding his 2002 death, Hewitt was the house pianist at Smalls Jazz Club in New York. This recording is drawn from two of his Sunday evening sets there in 2000.

There are a number of ways in which Hewitt throws off the typical historical narrative of jazz. Although born in 1935 and a lifelong Harlemite, the only recording of Hewitt released during his 67 years was a single track on the album Jazz Underground: Live at Smalls (Impulse, 1998). Additionally, his aesthetic is founded in the music of his youth: pianists like Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Hewitt's is a meticulously percussive brand of bebop, often allowing his chords to take on a muddy flavor in the pursuit of rhythmic expression. Later influences are remarkably absent from his technique, and he plays a purer bebop piano than perhaps anyone today except Barry Harris and Hank Jones.

If his playing demands reconsideration, his album warrants rethinking, too. Out of the Clear Black Sky has several tunes that run the risk of sounding hackneyed due to overexposure: "The Girl from Ipanema" and "Misty," which Hewitt plays twice on this disc. However, the performances are absorbing and unique enough to break through the danger of cliche.

On "Misty," Hewitt borrows slightly from Erroll Garner's locked-hands method, making for a degree of traditionalism. However, by neatly doctoring the melody's opening line, he manages to cut through the tune's obviousness with his own voice. Although Jimmy Lovelace's drumming frequently sounds docile, the trio proves capable of dropping into a strong groove, as when they land together on the corners of the form. The second, somewhat truncated version of "Misty" drives a little bit more—bassist Ari Roland feels a little more propulsive here, and Hewitt follows suit.

He also gives other songs a new lease on life. An unprecedented vamp at the beginning of "Girl from Ipanema" augments the song just enough, making it once again a valid vehicle for improvisation. And he disguises "Manteca" by blurring between swing and Afro-Cuban grooves.

In the album's liner notes, producer Luke Haven explores jazz history to seek out some justification for Hewitt's absence from the typical roster of great players. Although he attributes the lacuna to the racist Cabaret Laws that restricted gigging musicians, fundamentally one cannot know why such a strong musician would not receive his due time in the spotlight. The best we can do now is listen to Hewitt and embrace the reconsideration he merits.

Track Listing: Misty; The Girl from Ipanema; This Isn't New; Manteca; Lover; I Married An Angel; Misty.

Personnel: Frank Hewitt: piano; Ari Roland: bass; Jimmy Lovelace: drums.

Title: Out of the Clear Black Sky | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Smalls Records

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House CD/LP/Track Review Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House
by Mark Sullivan
Published: January 21, 2018
Read Journey to a New World CD/LP/Track Review Journey to a New World
by Troy Dostert
Published: January 21, 2018
Read Disappeared Behind the Sun CD/LP/Track Review Disappeared Behind the Sun
by John Sharpe
Published: January 21, 2018
Read 2018 Neujahrskonzert New Year’s Concert CD/LP/Track Review 2018 Neujahrskonzert New Year’s Concert
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 21, 2018
Read Lux CD/LP/Track Review Lux
by Karl Ackermann
Published: January 20, 2018
Read Unleashed CD/LP/Track Review Unleashed
by John Sharpe
Published: January 20, 2018
Read "Gratified Never Satisfied" CD/LP/Track Review Gratified Never Satisfied
by Troy Dostert
Published: July 16, 2017
Read "Atlantic Bridge" CD/LP/Track Review Atlantic Bridge
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 12, 2017
Read "Serious Play" CD/LP/Track Review Serious Play
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: July 3, 2017
Read "Unit[e]" CD/LP/Track Review Unit[e]
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 25, 2017
Read "Akua's Dance" CD/LP/Track Review Akua's Dance
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "It's Always 9.30 In Zog" CD/LP/Track Review It's Always 9.30 In Zog
by Roger Farbey
Published: August 11, 2017