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May 2007

Hod O’Brien
Blues Alley—Third Set
Reservoir

In his liner notes, Hod O’Brien admits that he originally rejected these eight selections. He planned to release only two albums from his trio gig at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. in July 2004. There are a few fluffs here.

But then he listened to these tracks again. Perhaps the raucous audience approval helped change his mind. What’s not to like about a solid hour of exhilarating creative adrenalin, with O’Brien in a zone, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington pouring sweat, and master engineer Jim Anderson on hand to capture it all?

In fact, this third volume may be the most valuable in the series because of its five consecutive Tadd Dameron interpretations. “The Squirrel” is a blues with a wicked little hook and an O’Brien solo that could have rolled on forever. “Dameronia,” inexplicably, is not played much. (Here it is played fast and suave.) O’Brien is not a stylistic innovator, but his readings of Dameron have a sense of completeness and proportion that makes them feel like the classic textbook versions—if textbooks could have so much heart.

The clincher is “If You Could See Me Now.” O’Brien releases it in waves, with the timing of a true storyteller, and its pensive sweetness never falters.

Originally published in May 2007
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