Although they appear infrequently in a club or on a concert stage, the trio consisting of pianist and leader David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Louis Hayes is one of the most exciting recording units in the jazz mainstream. The connection between Hazeltine and Hayes dates back to the mid-90s, when the pianist joined the drummer’s hard-driving quintet, contributing arrangements and compositions for the band. He plays a similar role in One For All, a cooperative sextet that has recorded three discs with Washington holding down the bass chair.
Hazeltine’s two releases on the Sharp Nine imprint, both titled The Classic Trio (Volumes I and II), document the trio’s cohesive sound, interesting choices of material, strong solo voices, and the capacity to swing with different degrees of intensity. Senor Blues, a recent issue on the Venus label, finds the threesome tackling a program consisting entirely of the compositions of Horace Silver, whose band Hayes joined while still a teenager in the late-50s. While they are normally associated with a two-horn front line, Silver’s signature tunes such as the title track, “Song For My Father,” and “Sayonara Blues,” do not suffer from the absence of similar instrumentation. In fact, instead of readily inviting comparison to the original recorded versions, the band’s interpretations contain a wholeness of their own.
Near the end of an eight bar introduction, Hayes’ galvanizing break sets the tone for the trio’s medium-to-up tempo, no nonsense account of “Horace-Scope.” Washington’s lean walking and the smack of Hayes’ snare drum create constant tension around Hazeltine’s solo, with the pianist’s firm touch making every note sound meaningful. As Hayes becomes more insistent, adding cymbal crashes and occasional tom-tom thumps, the leader continues to work the changes, spinning out an ostensibly endless number of prickling variations. Hazeltine returns after Washington’s four nimble choruses with eight measures that have “Here comes Louis!” written all over them. Sure enough, Hayes impudently bursts out with a trip around his set in which it seems like every brilliantly placed stoke is accentuated.
One of the two ballads on the disc, “Peace,” shows off a reflective side of the trio’s prowess. Hazeltine plays the melody with a floating, graceful kind of movement, as Washington offers brief, melodic comments in support, and Hayes’ subtle brushwork sustains the gentle motion. Without rashly breaking the mood, the pianist’s solo is somewhat more assertive, examining areas not suggested by the tune yet never straying very far from it.
The recording’s tour de force is a wrought-up version of “Nica’s Dream.” The 16 measure, Latin-influenced melody is played twice, yielding to a straight jazz bridge, and then voiced once more. With Hayes tapping out rhythms on the bell of his ride cymbal and Washington playing vamp-like variations, Hazeltine’s solo gradually whips the Latin sections into a state of maniacal intensity, and when the release of the bridge comes, he surges forward with a strength and agility reminiscent of Bud Powell. It’s a striking performance that’s capped by the pianist’s two eight bar exchanges with Hayes, who weaves the rumble of his floor tom-tom into knockabout snare drum cadences.