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David Hazeltine: The Inspiration Suite

Like all companies, record labels have cultures. David Hazeltine’s last album, The Jobim Songbook in New York, reflects the culture of the Chesky label. It is elegant, polite and rather pale. The Inspiration Suite is on Marc Edelman’s Sharp Nine label, and it is blood and guts and Technicolor.

Engineers and studios have cultures, too. One reason The Inspiration Suite sounds so incisive, so alive, is that it was made at Systems Two in Brooklyn. When Mike Marciano records a band, he makes you feel their body heat.

It could be called a concept album. The unifying theme is a tribute to two piano players Hazeltine reveres, Cedar Walton and Buddy Montgomery. In his four-part title suite, Walton’s “Shoulders” and Montgomery’s “Personage of Wes,” Hazeltine reveals how the distinctive traits of his mentors (Walton’s clarity and harmonic erudition, Montgomery’s unique ideas about structure and “little jagged edges”) have filtered into his own language and aesthetic.

The organizing principle is less important than the outcome: intelligent, passionate jazz. The opener, “I Should Care” (while it contains no obvious connection to the album’s concept), sets the rules of engagement for Hazeltine’s quintet: a literate arrangement (in this case a dry, ironic alteration of the tune into A flat); a clarion, voluble, densely detailed, concise solo from tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander; an exhilarating series of tumbles and cartwheels from vibraharpist Joe Locke; a taut, precise design from Hazeltine with every note riveted; and motivational snap from bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

Originally Published