The best Jazz pianist you’ve never heard? He could answer to the name Tardo Hammer. The 43–year–old New Yorker is indeed somethin’ special, as he demonstrates time and again on his second album for Sharp Nine. We were lucky enough to review the first one ( Hammer Time
), and everything written then bears repeating, with even weightier emphasis. “When listening to him play,” we observed, “one doesn’t think of a Hammer so much as a scalpel, or perhaps a paint brush. Hammer has a marvelous touch (using both hands well), an inspired feeling for dynamics and time, and above all, a wonderful ability to articulate his musical impulses and let them sing. Like every world–class musician, he makes everything seem preposterously easy . . .” And, we should add, he swings easily and often, in the manner of such illustrious predecessors and role models as Bud Powell, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Drew, Duke Jordan, Barry Harris, Hampton Hawes and other renowned masters of bebop piano. For persuasive evidence, listen to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” Powell’s “John’s Abbey” or his own “Lizard Lips.” Hammer’s no slouch when it comes to interpreting ballads either, as he proves on “You’re My Thrill,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “If I Loved You” (from Carousel
) and another of his sharply–drawn compositions, “Into the Fire.” Hammer also wrote “Divertimento” and “Subterranean” (based, respectively, on the standards “Dancing in the Dark” and “All the Things You Are”), and rounds out the engaging program with Sonny Clark’s minor blues, “Somethin’ Special,” and Sonny Rollins’ loping “Blues for Philly Joe.” Hammer’s colleagues, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Leroy Williams, have been with him since the mid–’80s, and they know how to push without shoving. Hammer responds well to their cues, and the group interplay is secure but not unmalleable. On the contrary, everything flows almost as easily as it would from one mind instead of three, which is the way Jazz trios should perform. While Hammer’s piano is the focal point, Irwin and Williams have their moments as well, and each contributes a number of perceptive solos. Together they’ve produced another “special” album, one that should please anyone who admires superbly talented bop–based piano trios.
Contact:Sharp Nine Records, 561 Hillcrest Avenue, Westfield, NJ 07090. Phone 908–789–7660; fax 908–654–1863. Web site, www.sharpnine.com; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org