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November 2007

Tardo Hammer
Look Stop & Listen: The Music of Tadd Dameron
Sharp Nine

More than other great jazz composers like Ellington and Monk, Tadd Dameron was an artist of his era. His time was WWII and right after, as swing became bop. Dameron’s music is prewar melodic romanticism turned ambiguous by complex postwar harmonies and nervous bop rhythms.

Perhaps that is why Tardo Hammer is the finest living Dameron interpreter. He is not only a monster of the bop idiom technically; he comes from it spiritually, too. (Never mind that he was born in 1958.)

The 10 tracks of Dameron material here contain some of the richest, most piquant lyricism in jazz literature. The chiseled clarity of Hammer’s improvisations on these themes and their intricate chords demonstrates the bop language’s inexhaustible capacity for personal expression. The music’s sense of currency and relevance is enhanced by Hammer’s young, loose, volatile rhythm section: bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

A piece like “Super Jet” is about the thrill and risk of pure speed. Dameron’s sweetest ode, “If You Could See Me Now,” is hit hard, with tart chords, but still sings. “Dial B for Beauty” and “Smooth as the Wind” are lush but unsentimental. On archetypal modern blues like “The Squirrel” and headlong anthems like “Our Delight,” Hammer gets both Dameron’s life-pulse and his poetry.

Until now, the two best recordings of Dameron’s music, other than Dameron’s own, were To Tadd With Love and Look Stop & Listen (the same title as the Hammer album) by the group Dameronia. These LPs appeared on the Uptown label in the early 1980s and, oddly, were never reissued on CD. They were nonet dates, but they were not more complete or even more orchestral than this Tardo Hammer trio session.

Originally published in November 2007
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