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Hank Jones: The Talented Touch/Porgy and Bess

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These two releases were recorded 44 years apart, when Hank Jones was 40 and 84 respectively. The Talented Touch is mostly short performances of sweet evergreens (“Try a Little Tenderness,” “My One and Only Love”), impeccably executed by a quartet with Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson. Scott Wenzel’s new liner notes theorize that Capitol’s motivation for putting this session together in 1958 was the commercial success of LPs by Erroll Garner and Jonah Jones. It was the rock ‘n’ roll era, yet there was a market for a certain genre of accessible, lightly swinging jazz.

The necessity for “lightness” may explain this album’s ultrapolite restraint. The down-the-middle renditions and charming tags and gentle, tinkling flourishes could have been provided by an artist less accomplished than Hank Jones-although not with his polished elegance. If caution renders this session less than indispensable, it is hard to imagine a nicer, more reassuring piano album to come home to after a difficult day at the office.

The Porgy and Bess material, originally released on Capitol in 1960, is less satisfactory. Hank’s brother Elvin replaces Osie Johnson, and Kenny Burrell replaces Barry Galbraith. But even surrounded by this unimpeachable level of musicianship, Jones’ encounters with icons like “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” bring no important insights. They are mannered, highly stylized and flawless.

The Okra-Tone reissue of the two Capitol LPs offers clear, relatively unveiled sound achieved by Ron McMaster’s 24-bit remastering. But Someday My Prince Will Come, recorded in Direct Stream Digital in 2002 by Yoshiro Suzuki, bathes Hank Jones’ trio in bright light. Suzuki gets the hissing energy of Elvin Jones’ sticks on his cymbals (in his final recording with his brother), the deepest audible octave in Richard Davis’ bass and the intelligent, firm caress of Hank Jones’ fingers on the piano keys. The program is conservative; the passion is not. The ballads (“A Child Is Born,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”) are meticulous and tender in their consideration, and the headlong fast tunes (“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” “Caravan”) give no indication that Hank Jones could not go for another 44 years.