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David Hazeltine: I Remember Cedar

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I Remember Cedar represents the passing of a baton, with a lingering grip. Pianist Cedar Walton had a profound influence on the musical artistry of David Hazeltine. For his part, Walton once called Hazeltine “for sure the brightest star on the jazz piano horizon.” When Walton passed in August of 2013 at the age of 79, this tribute from Hazeltine-with its ensemble integrity, nuanced innovation and overall ability to pay back, with interest, a hefty stylistic debt-was inevitable.

All but one of the 10 songs are Walton originals, but Hazeltine ignores obvious choices like “Bolivia” and the pair of standards associated with Walton’s fabled tenure with Art Blakey, “Ugetsu” and “Mosaic.” Even on the relatively familiar numbers, like “Holy Land” and “Cedar’s Blues,” Hazeltine provides harmonic surprises, melodic refinements and changes of pace that feel utterly organic to the tune-artistic depth that is a better homage than any note-for-note rendering. This ability to unearth so much fertile ground within the theoretically narrow confines of midtempo bop (ballads and breakneck tunes are mostly eschewed) is what made the ingenuity of Walton, and subsequently Hazeltine, such an enduring pleasure.

Another virtue the two pianists have in common is the desire to play and arrange in a manner that enhances the entire ensemble. The rhythm section on this trio date includes drummer Joe Farnsworth, who has shared the stage and studio with Hazeltine on innumerable occasions, and David Williams, who was both Walton’s preferred bassist for nearly 30 years and a frequent cohort of Hazeltine’s. Their experience and kindred sensibility enable them to seamlessly cohere even when operating with the unpredictable logic of a jigsaw puzzle-call it complementary shape-shifting.

The final track is “Over the Rainbow,” Walton’s favorite solo piece. Hazeltine’s solo version is worthy of the occasion, and could righteously stand as the eulogy Walton fans most cherish.

Originally Published