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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.

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