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Hod O’Brien: Have Piano. . .Will Swing!

O’Brien maintains a direct connection to Bud Powell, bypassing the Bill Evans voicings and modal approaches that infuse the playing of so many modern pianists. He brings off his interpretation of the Powell style with so much craft and clarity that his playing, rather than sounding dated, has self-renewing freshness. O’Brien has recorded on his own far too seldom since his 1957 debut as a 21-year-old sideman on the Idrees Sulieman-Art Farmer-Donald Byrd Three Trumpets album for Prestige.

An Easterner all his life, O’Brien made this album during an engagement in Los Angeles. If proof is still needed that the old East-versus-West argument should die once and for all, here it is. Bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Paul Kreibich suit O’Brien’s direct way of swinging as admirably as do Ray Drummond and Kenny Washington on his Reservoir CDs. The pieces include Coltrane’s “Lazy Bird,” Silver’s “Ecaroh,” Garner’s “Passing Through” and “Hod House,” O’Brien’s clever original based on “What Is This Thing Called Love.” O’Brien takes “Dancing in the Dark” at a medium groove, bolstered by Kreibich’s superb brushwork. Warrington plays with exceptional smoothness and power in support. He solos with impeccable taste and note choices on “While My Lady Sleeps” and on “Red’s Groove,” in which O’Brien visits the Red Garland school of Bud Powellism. After a slow, tender exploration of the verse, he shifts up for a fleet “Soon” that gives Kreibich an opportunity to demonstrate the crispness of his attack with stick and top cymbal.

O’Brien’s tenderness manifests itself in thoughtful playing on two ballads, “Some Other Spring” and “Last Night When We Were Young,” the latter a masterly performance of a song too seldom heard. Producer Dick Bank’s and engineer Jim Mooney’s sound is first-rate. The cover portrait of O’Brien, which has the depth of an oil painting, is by Stan Levey, who gave up drums to become a successful professional photographer.

Originally Published