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11/22/09

Ron Hockett Quintet
Finally, Ron
Arbors Records

Ron Hockett began playing clarinet as a fourth-grader in his native Evanston, Ill. For three decades he played and recorded (always as a sideman) around D.C. while holding on to his day gig with the U.S. Marine Band as a saxophonist; and diligently refined his technique playing with Jim Cullum's Jazz Band for nine years. So, to quote from the title, finally Ron makes his debut as a full-fledged leader.

For his coming-out party, he is supported by a strong rhythm section: pianist John Sheridan, a colleague from the
Cullum decade; guitarist James Chirillo; bassist Phil Flanigan; and drummer Jake Hanna. Each of the rhythm players is unswervingly dedicated to the trad-flavored Hockett docket and Ron is a faithful follower of the Peanuts Hucko school of small combo jazz. So you know what to expect: clean, precise swing with plenty of stretch-out room for
soloists.

Among up tunes, "Just One of Those Things," "Hindustan," and particularly "Undecided:" are stand-outs. The latter contains some arranged moments reminiscent of Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five. And it ends with a clever salute to
Benny Goodman as Ron quotes from B.G.'s theme, "Let's Dance." On the slow side, Ron doubles on soprano sax for a surprisingly effective bossa treatment of "My Ideal" featuring bassist Flanigan's finest moments. Guitarist Chirillo's most memorable unamplified m oments can be heard, unsurprisingly, on Django's "Nuages," another outlet for Hockett's soprano." The brief intro to Ron's original, "Blues for Jack," gives pianist Sheridan a chance to show how to set a "quarter-to-three" mood so effectively. Elsewhere, he must be commended for deftly staying out of the way of Chirillo's chomping. Talk about staying out of the way, Jake Hanna's big band goosing credentials are well-known, yet he's the model of subtlety here, showing some artful brush work.

The most intense swing, where the quintet threatens to become airborne, can be felt on "Everybody Loves My Baby" and the final chorus of "If Dreams Come True."

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