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Hank Jones: The New York Rhythm Section

A portrait of the artist Hank Jones, taken over two decades, emerges from these three recording sessions, and it’s most flattering. The pianist’s “sittings” consist of a 1956 studio date plus two nights at the Village Vanguard. Ironically, there’s an unevenness in sound quality on the studio-recorded The New York Rhythm Section, but there is never a hint of unevenness when it comes to Jones’ playing. He is a paragon of consistency: always elegant, refined and one helluva swinger. The 21 tracks cover everything from straightahead swing to polite bop. Jones’ standout moments come on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” with his trademark gentle touch, and “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” where Jones shows off his penchant for reharmonizing and his agility with block chords. Bassist Milt Hinton provides another highlight on his own lovely ballad, “Mona’s Feeling Lonely,” accompanied only by Barry Galbraith’s guitar. Another original worth mentioning is the deliciously slow blues by guest trombonist Jimmy Cleveland-not only for his exceptional playing but also for Jones’ memorable comping.

Fast-forward to 1977 and two unforgettable nights of high-energy jazz from Jones, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. So equally are the contributions made, solo-wise and in ensemble playing, that this group could only be called the Great Jazz Trio. As for Jones himself, there is not one iota of difference in his technique, harmonic chops or overall taste in the 20-plus years that had passed since the N.Y. Rhythm Section recording. He not only passes the test of time, he seems to stop it, showing even more maturity, but not forsaking his sense of humor. During his solo on Williams’ original “Lawra,” with rhythmic bombs bursting in air, Jones’ drops in that corny old exercise “Nola,” and, shortly thereafter, interpolates “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” Carter does some of the same by slyly inserting “Bushel and a Peck” into a solo during his own “12+12.” The trio’s sound might have you thinking each member is going his own way, but listen more carefully. Carter and Williams truly converse in “Nardis,” and this was a well-integrated, great jazz trio.

Originally Published