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Hampton Hawes: Bird Song

The company he kept increases the pleasure and surprise of nearly an hour of previously unissued music by Hampton Hawes. These trios may not have quite the magnetic cogency of Hawes’ working group with Red Mitchell and Chuck Thompson, but there is more than enough brilliance here to satisfy listeners who recognize Hawes as one of the finest of the pianists who grew out of Bud Powell. His bassists, Paul Chambers in a 1956 session and Scott LaFaro in 1958, were to profoundly influence the way in which jazz players use the instrument. Drummers Larance Marable and Frank Butler were exemplars of the elusive art of swinging hard softly.

There is no clearer exposition on record of Hawes’ thorough assimilation of Powell’s example than in the third chorus of this version of “Just One of Those Things.” Chambers and Marable maintain the degree of tension needed to keep the pianist at Powell’s edge of crystalline articulation and manic swing. The Powell influence was a key to his style, but it was only one element. Hawes was one of the most recognizable pianists of his generation because of his touch, his voicings and the blues shadings in everything he played. He is still pigeonholed by some as a West Coast player, which says much more about the need to categorize than about his work. An indication of his universality and his hipness: This album includes a sterling 1956 version of “Bird Song” recorded at a time when only the most aware musicians were playing Thad Jones tunes.

Originally Published