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02/28/13

David Hazeltine
The New Classic Trio
Sharp Nine

David Hazeltine is a consummate pro, meaning he plays with consistency, integrity and a creative faith in the wellspring of the mainstream. Fifteen years ago, the pianist put out the first of what would become three Classic Trio records featuring bassist Peter Washington and drummer Louis Hayes, with the last one, which added tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, released in 2002. The New Classic Trio arrives a decade down the road, with a different rhythm section—bassist George Mraz and drummer Joe Farnsworth—as its title implies. But the album’s virtues and sensibility are thoroughly consonant with those previous discs. As with that Classic Trio debut, there are choice compositions by Cedar Walton and Bud Powell; some Hazeltine originals including a blues and a durable hard-bop template; and reflexive, empathetic interplay that creates subtle bevels and contours on otherwise straightforward riffs and grooves.

Mraz, like John Patitucci, has a knack for sounding both bold and tender, a dynamism that helps an ensemble in frequent jeopardy of collaborating too seamlessly. His solos are strong, particularly on the standards that open and close the disc (“My Heart Stood Still,” by Rodgers and Hart, and the Mercer-Arlen perennial “Come Rain or Come Shine”). He also pushes Hazeltine as they play the melody of the Walton tune “I’ll Let You Know” in unison; later, each player issues a compelling solo, lending an air of alpha dog competition missing elsewhere. Hazeltine, who devoted an entire album to the works of Jobim with Farnsworth on drums, demonstrates his affinity for Brazilian music with the gracefully airy original “Bossa for All,” and a Brazilian-tinged take on Harry Warren’s “I Wish I Knew” featuring guest Jose Alexis Diaz on congas.

In Hazeltine’s sure and steady hands, this New Classic Trio sounds a lot like the old Classic Trio—which is the point of “classic,” right?

Originally published in January/February 2013
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