Frank Hewitt : Out of the Clear Black Sky

This is the fifth posthumous Frank Hewitt album released on the Smalls label, and the first live trio recording. For those who were convinced by the first four albums that Hewitt was a great, neglected master, every subsequent release is an opportunity to test their faith. Out of the Clear Black Sky will further validate Hewitt’s believers. Unlike other pianists to whom he is often compared (and among whom he represents a missing link of continuity) like Powell and Monk and Elmo Hope, Hewitt was not a composer. He played the classic songbook and bop standards.

On the new album (recorded live at Smalls in Greenwich Village in 2000) he plays “Misty” (for 21 minutes in two takes) and “The Girl From Ipanema” and “I Married an Angel.” The emotional tone of such material might seem wrong for Hewitt, whose version of romanticism was trenchant and ambiguous. But Hewitt only maintained one level of thematic exposition, one kind of existential encounter. When he applied himself to a song it became deeper and darker, and his variations and meditations had the authority of gut-level honesty. “Misty,” twice, is transformed into sculpture carved from hard stone. “Ipanema” and “Angel” are comprehensively detailed and wise and have the ponderous, steely grace that Frank Hewitt invented.