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David Hazeltine: The Time Is Now (Smoke Sessions)

Review of the pianist's first trio album with Ron Carter and Al Foster

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Cover of David Hazeltine album The Time Is Now
Cover of David Hazeltine album The Time Is Now

If you’re going to put together a rhythm section for a piano trio date, you could certainly do a lot worse than Ron Carter and Al Foster. Although the two gentlemen are getting up there in the years (bassist Carter is 81, drummer Foster 74; pianist David Hazeltine himself just turned 60), both are still sharp, instinctual players who adapt easily to any given situation. Hazeltine and Foster first did some gigs together at Smoke in New York in 2016 and with Carter aboard, cut the 11 tracks on a single date in the spring of this year—it was the trio’s first time playing together.

Unsurprisingly, the music flows easily. Save for a few adventures that take him off the beaten path—his “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” here takes some thrilling detours—Hazeltine is a relatively conventional, albeit outstanding pianist who prefers to keep his melodies in check. Six of these songs are self-penned, the others come from sources ranging from Duke Ellington to James Taylor, and while all musicians demonstrate superior technique and confidence as a leader, Hazeltine is largely content to keep the arrangements and performances within bounds. No one here needs to strut—the liner notes indicate that it’s his 34th leader session, after all—and the music is better for it.

One place the trio does toy with the formula is with its reading of the Neal Hefti/Sammy Cahn theme from The Odd Couple. Slowed to a shuffling pace, it provides an opportunity for the trio to rethink a familiar tune from the inside out, and both Hazeltine and Carter enjoy seeing how far they can go without losing sight of the original intent. “Blues for Eddie,” meanwhile (a nod to Eddie Harris), is all about Carter, and who’s gonna complain about that?

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Originally Published