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The Great Jazz Trio: 'S Wonderful

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There's certainly no dearth of Hank Jones on CD this year. Whether as a leader on his new trio release, For My Father, or in central roles on the Thad Jones tribute album One More: Music of Thad Jones and Joe Lovano's Joyous Encounter, Jones has been cluttering up the record store jazz section. More power to him, because there's not a bad one in that list. Jones' longstanding Great Jazz Trio's new album S'Wonderful—the first recording from the sixth incarnation of this group, with Jones, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and bassist John Patitucci—continues Jones' hot streak. Like For My Father, it's a collection of jazz standards and chestnuts, and I hesitate to say which of the two is better. I do not, however, hesitate to say that this is more than three first-stringers doing a session. It's a damned good band.

As everyone probably knows by now, Jones is playing piano magnificently these days. His playing is precise, vigorous, and always imbued with his trademark effervescent swing. Patitucci and DeJohnette don't defer to Jones one iota, nor does he to them; this is a band of equals. That might suggest that DeJohnette's muscle is overpowering and inappropriate to Jones' lighter touch, or that Jones is playing these tunes—some of which, "S'Wonderful, or "Sweet Lorraine, for example, he's played countless times in his career—the same way he always does, no matter who's accompanying him. None of this is true.

The band charges out of the gate so vehemently on the album's title track that the listener is taken aback: it's almost violently swinging, and no one's giving any quarter on the breaks (and the tune, really, is nothing but breaks)—whether it's DeJohnette's skidding snare rolls, Patitucci's low-end barrage, or Jones' sparkling right hand runs. You can almost smell the second-hand smoke on Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train —it's positively greasy. Jones pounds out blues phrases over Patitucci's walking bass, but DeJohnette's cymbals and snare snake ahead and behind tempo throughout; this is jazz, not R&B.

Paul Desmond's "Take Five might be the best-selling song in the history of jazz, but it's seldom recorded by other musicans. It's interesting, then, to hear this group perform it. Not surprisingly, DeJohnette has no trouble playing a five count; in fact, he absolutely eats the song alive, playing at times more in seven than five and consequently creating a polyrhythmic tension with Patitucci's meaty bass line. Meanwhile, Jones contributes one of his best solos on the session—he's rooted in the song's changes, but his offkilter phrasing and use of space create something new in a context we all know by heart. Exquisite.

But that's the magic here: not the power of the musicianship, but the fact that these players can say something new using songs like "Greensleeves, "Moanin', or "The Days of Wine and Roses. Of course, that's really the essence of jazz—and Hank Jones is, if nothing else, the quintessential jazzman. Long may he play.

Track Listing: S'Wonderful; Sweet Lorraine; Moanin'; The Days of Wine and Roses; Take Five; I Surrender Dear; Night Train; Lover Come Back to Me; Greensleeves.

Personnel: Hank Jones: piano; Jack DeJohnette: drums; John Patitucci: bass

Title: 'S Wonderful | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Columbia Records

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