Pianist Benny Green explains in the notes accompanying his new album that it’s his first trio recording as a leader in 10 years. “I just wasn’t motivated to have a band,” he writes, and it’s tempting to think he spent the time sulking, Achilles-like, because so many young people “know nothing of what jazz is. Who can blame them for believing it’s a face on a magazine cover or anything employing a horn or improvisation? Most singers and songwriters today are marketed as being somehow jazz-influenced or jazz-based.”
Be thankful, then, that Green has decided to re-enter the battle to give his beloved jazz its due, joined by the stellar bass-drums team of Peter Washington and Kenny Washington. “They keep me honest and inspire me to practice,” says Green of the Washingtons (no relation), who also bring extraordinary rapport from more than a decade working together in Bill Charlap’s trio. Green, who cut his teeth with Betty Carter and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, among others, is best known as a hardcore hard bopper, and there is plenty of great stuff in that vein here: Sonny Clark’s “Blue Minor,” Carl Perkins’ “Way ’Cross Town,” Donald Byrd’s “Little T,” Kenny Drew’s “Cool Green” and Duke Pearson’s “Chant” all getting exemplary hard-swinging, blues-soaked takes.
But Green can play slow and quiet, and breaks things up with lush, idea-rich interpretations of ballads by Dizzy Gillespie (“I Waited for You”), Benny Golson (“Park Avenue Petite”) and Mel Tormé (“Born to Be Blue”). As strong as all the rest of it is, though, the album’s highlights are arguably Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugit,” which Green flies through at warp speed, and the nearly as breakneck set-closer, Horace Silver’s classic “Opus de Funk.” Source could make a delightful postbop primer for those benighted young folks Green worries about.