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January/February 2006

Hod O'Brien
Blues Alley-Second Set
Reservoir

If, like me, you have missed Hod O'Brien, even though he has been around for 50 years and is one of the best pure bop piano players in the world, don't get mad, get even: buy this record (and its companion volume, First Set).

O'Brien absolutely smokes this program of eight standards. You can get high on his clarity of articulation and coherent wholeness of form at fast tempos. While most of his interpretations are classically straightforward (and elegantly detailed), his halting, blockish treatment of Randy Weston's "Little Niles" is personal, and O'Brien makes "In a Sentimental Mood" all dark and soulful by giving it away to bassist Ray Drummond.

The other two heroes of this project are also exceptional in their chosen professions: drummer Kenny Washington, so clever and clean, and engineer Jim Anderson. The latter is virtually unique in his ability to provide the best of both worlds in one record: the sound of an audiophile studio session and the existential immediacy of a live recording. We are smack there, at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., because Anderson gets it all: the bottom of Drummond's bass, the collisions of Washington sticks on cymbals, the full sonic complexity of a particular piano and the electricity in the night air.

Originally published in January/February 2006
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