Jazz CD Reviews

Hank Jones – Hanky Panky – East Wind/Test of Time Records

A welcome re-release from the master of jazz piano

Published on May 9, 2007

Hank Jones – Hanky Panky – East Wind/Test of Time Records
Hank Jones – Hanky Panky – East Wind/Test of Time Records TOT-9 (1975), 44:31 *****:

(Hank Jones, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Grady Tate, drums)

We almost lost our jazz master recently when Hank Jones suffered a massive heart attack. There was a photo in the New York Times showing Hank in a hospital room in New York City with Abbey Lincoln, who was also there recuperating from her own even more serious health problems. It is with pleasure that we can report that Hank is recovering and plans on playing clubs again soon. At the advanced age of 89, soon to reaching his 90th birthday in July, we need our master pianist, one of the last remaining links to the early days of jazz, to be with us, spreading his good will and ultimate taste on the piano.

Jones’ use of space while playing the keyboard, much in the same way that Shirley Horn took her time caressing each word as a vocalist, is unique compared to the mile-a-minute playing of so many piano players trying to blow away their audience with speed. Jones is old school in his care in playing the melody to establish the mood the composer was intending to evoke to their audience, especially in ballads from the Great American Songbook. There are younger pianists who have this touch, such as Bill Charlap, and more established veterans like Alan Broadbent, but it is still Jones who sets the standard for all others to follow.

It is a rare treat when long out of print Jones LPs are brought back to life with impeccable sound, such as we find with the Test of Time release of Hank’s trio recording from 1975, with the tasteful backing of Ron Carter and Grady Tate. Hanky Panky was first released in 1975 by the Japanese label, East Wind.  [They did many of their albums as direct discs, and those recorded on tape had very high technical standards. Their LPs also sported some of the most beautiful cover art ever on jazz albums...Ed.] That label was purchased by 441 Records, who are re-release some of the best sounding jazz from the mid to late 70s on their connoisseur label, Test of Time. They recently released Jackie McLean’s New Wine in Old Bottles (reviewed here recently) and have plans to bring out many more remastered masterpieces. Hanky Panky features song selection and arrangements by Jones and the liner notes indicate that side one of the album was to feature new (for that time) composers that Hank liked and side two featured popular jazz standards.

The composers of side one’s material certainly are not household names today-that being Ray Rivers, Pete Vuolo, and Sara Cassey-but in Hank’s hands a childhood nursery rhyme would come to life and deeply move most any jazz piano fan. That’s the case here as well as Hank swings Nothin’ Beats an Evil Woman, complete with trills and bluesy runs. Ron Carter’s woody bass keeps pace in a walking line and Grady Tate, unshowy and understated, but always in the pocket, reminds you he’s right with Hank. Warm Blue Stream is taken at a leisurely stroll just as the title suggests. Carter’s bass is so upfront in the mix that you feel you can touch the fret board and feel the reverberation of the plucked strings. Confidence follows and it is an understatement of a title with Jones on board. Never a wasted note and again Carter is with Hank every step of the way, much like Scott LaFaro was with Bill Evans.

The second Cassey composition, Wind Flower, is as reflective as Warm Blue Stream, and Tate has his moment in the light here while Hank and Ron trade phrases. Hank follows with his own Minor Contention and this is an upbeat number with Carter on overdrive. Tate is all over his drum set here with heavy snare and tom work.

Claus Ogerman’s Favors, always a Jones favorite, has a sweet clarity and bright tone that always catches my ear. Harold Arlen’s As Long as I Love gets the Jones caress and use of space and swing that brings a smile to your face. The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic -but often hackneyed in the wrong hands – Oh, What a Beautiful Morning comes back to life here anchored by Carter and the playful reading by Hank. Our 1975 visit with Jones comes to an end with the title cut, given a Latin flavor by Hank and stick work of Tate.  Long live Hank Jones-we need you in our jazz lives. As Duke said so aptly, we love you madly!

Tracklist: Nothin’ Beats an Evil Woman, Warm Blue Stream, Confidence, Wind Flower, Minor Contention, Favors, As Long As I Love, Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, Hanky Panky

- Jeff Krow

Stepping Out On The Town

Steve Davis, trombone – Alone Together – Mapleshade 10832,   61:03 ****:

(Steve Davis, trombone; Larry Willis, piano; Nat Reeves, bass; Eric
MPherson, drums)

The new CD by the Steve Davis Quartet, Alone Together, sets a happy tone. With Davis on trombone, Larry Willis on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums, the band manages to evoke a wonderful mood. The feeling is one of stepping out on the town, enjoying yourself after having stayed in for far too long. Even through the sadder numbers, the ensemble creates that feeling of joy coming after a long period of sorrow.

The first track, Milestones, starts with Larry Willis’ piano announcing the good news in an upbeat tone. Reeves picks up the pace of the song and McPherson carries it on a strong walking bass line. Davis does here what he does phenomenally through the whole album: play in a controlled, even subtle manner, reaching to evoke emotion instead of merely blasting out notes.

The album continues with My Foolish Heart, a song that has Davis using his trombone as a tool for dialogue. Davis plays slowly and softly; making sure each phrasing carries as much meaning as words could evoke. It is refreshing to hear this kind of restraint and purposefulness in playing. The band here beautifully mimics Davis’ rises and falls, framing his wonderful playing.

Surrey With The Fringe On Top, has Davis playing right into the dominant mood of the record. Even in this more energetic song, almost no brassy sound emerges from Davis’ instrument. McPherson takes command of the song’s tempo and keeps the mood light.

The title track, Alone Together, creates a feeling of excitement. Willis and McPherson play jubilantly, framing Davis’ more cool tone. Davis serves as te calculated seductive voice to contrast the contained frenzy of the rest of the band. The quartet seems to really enjoy this song, achieving a playfully ironic mood.

Next up is the somber, The Day You Said Goodbye. This track features Davis’ best work on the album. His playing here is lyrical, attempting to elevate te emotions of the song to a higher level. Were the composition slightly less conventional, the song would be near perfect. As is, it is still fantastic.

United features rambunctious playing by McPherson and great bass work by Reeves. Willis and Davis let loose in a way they don’t on the rest of the album, and the result is pleasurable and refreshing.

Next is We’ll Be Together Again, a varied song that features Davis playing with several different moods and tempos. In this more complex song, it is essential that the entire ensemble function, and they do. McPherson and Reeves steer the song through each shift it makes, and Willis’ light piano pays well against Davis.

On Ummg, Reeves gets to start front and center and strut his stuff. His urbane, smart bass creates the feel for this sly track. The song is the closest that the CD comes at any point to lite jazz, but the tight quartet seers clear of the pitfalls of that sound.

The final track, Short Cake, is a boisterous closing number. Willis’ playing winds all around the song, offering perhaps his best soloing on the album. The rhythm section is subdued except when called upon, allowing Davis and Willis’ to bring this fine record to a close in a fun way.  Alone Together is an album worth a listen for Davis’ great playing alone, but the entire ensemble makes this a CD definitely worth checking out.

Track List: Milestones, My Foolish Heart, Surrey With The Fringe On Top, Alone Together, The Day You Said Goodbye, United, We’ll Be Together Again, Umg, Short Cake

- Ethan Krow

More than highly recommended

Joe Henderson – Power To The People – Milestone/ Keepnews Collection  30130 2, 42:39 1969  *****:

(Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone; Mike Lawrence, trumpet; Herbie Hancock, piano & electric piano; Ron Carter, acoustic & electric bass; Jack De Johnette, drums)

Joe Henderson’s, Power To The People is a thoughtful album, with many different shades and moods. It has an all-star band, with Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone, Mike Lawrence on trumpet, Herbie Hancock on piano and electric piano, Ron Carter on bass and electric bass, and Jack De Johnette o rums. They are all at their masterful, atmospheric best here in this casic album.

The first track, Black Narcissus, is a cerebral affair. The first half of the song is tightly structured. It fluctuates between muted, melodic playing, and crashing crescendos. The second half features contemplative swing by Henderson, and Hancock. Although all are amazing, Hancock’s minimal-note solos are exceptional.

Afro-Centric, is a much busier song. It has Carter flexing his muscles with awesome electric bass playing. He seems to let loose on the instrument, as if trying to see if the rest of the band can keep up. They do, of course, with more energetic playing that nears a bebop frenzy but backs off at the last second.

Opus One-Point Five, the third track, starts off with Henderson playing intelligently and confidently. For so many players, this kind of sustained playing would come off as posing, but for Henderson it is moody and even moving. The stately paced song starts to deconstruct itself around the 24 mark, and it is a pleasure to hear these musicians play at chaos while remaining in control the whole time.

Next up is Isotope, which explodes out of the gate. Carter’s locomotive walking bass is the engine of this exuberant song. His bass playing really gets to shine during the multiple times when the band puts on the breaks and allows him to take center stage. De Johnette’s crashing cymbal blasts over interplay between the melody players, gives the song a tremendous intensity.

The title track, Power To The People, is a Latin-tinged song, which features tremendous playing by De Johnette. The players really let loose on this take, letting their playing get a bit frenzied. The solos are strong and punctuated, with Hancock and Lawrence’s especially forceful. This madcap number may be the best on the album.

Lazy Afternoon, is, as one would assume, rather laid back. Carter plays more get walking bass, this time with less force and more cool. Hancock throws out slightly dissonant chords at Henderson as he plays, which just ups Henderson’s game even further. The interplay between them on this song is tremendous.

The final track, Foresight and Afterthought (an impromptu suite), is an astonishing song. It starts with Henderson playing like dynamite just about to explode, and when he finally does, De Johnette erupts right along with him. The songs almost runs of control, until Henderson reigns it back in from madness. The band plays a quiet flurry of notes and then briefly goes silent. Carter’s bass emerges from the stillness and begins to create an obvious building. The track then builds up steam again and finally runs wild as the album ends. Power To The People is a great album that is highly, highly recommended. It is esthetically united and very moving, and there is no higher praise than that.

TrackList: Black Narcissus, Afro-Centric, Opus One-Point-Five, Isotope, Power To The People, Lazy Afternoon, Foresight and Afterthought (an impromptu suite)

- Ethan Krow

 




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