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October 2006

David Hazeltine/George Mraz Trio
Manhattan
Chesky Records

This album launches Chesky’s new “New York Sessions” series, recorded in the “natural acoustics” of St. Peter’s Church in New York City. As it happens, David Hazeltine recorded another album with a New York theme, Manhattan Autumn, for the Sharp Nine label in 2003. Since Chesky claims to be an “audiophile” label (supporting “minimalist miking techniques”), it is revealing to compare the sonic quality of the two recordings.

Sharp Nine’s Manhattan Autumn was recorded in the presumably “unnatural acoustics” of a recording studio, Systems Two in Brooklyn. It is a vivid, detailed sonic portrait of Hazeltine’s trio plus Eric Alexander’s tenor saxophone. Chesky’s Manhattan has a slightly cloudy sound. Hazeltine’s piano notes lack clean edges. Billy Drummond’s drums are back too far. George Mraz’ bass is loose and diffuse.

While the sound does not justify Chesky’s audiophile claims, it is not so bad as to prevent enjoyment of a musically literate, tasteful, even elegant program that contains mostly standards. Hazeltine’s ideas about songs like “Detour Ahead,” “So in Love” and “Everything I Love” are deceptively, indirectly and ingeniously transformative. As co-leader, Mraz takes a prominent role and demonstrates that he is among the most eloquent bass soloists in jazz.

Originally published in October 2006
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