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Jeff Hackworth: How Little We Know

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Tenorist Jeff Hackworth boasts a big, pleasant tone and just enough credentials (having played with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra when it was fronted by Buddy Morrow) to justify a second album. The first found him in the context of an organ trio. The current offering features an excellent combo of pianist Norman Simmons, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Chip White, with guitarist Peter Hand added on four tracks. It also has the advantage of being produced by one of Hackworth’s main mentors, Houston Person.

But all that still doesn’t guarantee a successful CD. The weak point is the focal point-Hackworth, who cannot carry the session. Perhaps he was intimidated by the heavyweights around him. Whatever the reason, he sounds tentative, reluctant to loosen up. With the exception of “Tenderly” and “I’m Just a Lucky So and So,” he remains tethered to the melody on the opening and closing choruses, and confines his jazz to a one-chorus-per-track formula. Even in the matter of tempos, only one cut can be considered an “up” tune (“All or Nothing at All”).

Maybe such a lack of adventure reflects more on the producer than the featured player, but the name of this game is jazz, and considering the high-profile backing and the great standards chosen, it’s safe to assume nobody in the studio (Rudy Van Gelder’s, yet) was thinking “smooth listening.” So it’s no surprise that most of the highlights belong to the accompanying musicians: Washington’s intense walking on the title track and his solo on “Why Do I Love You”; guitarist Hand’s solo on “This Is Always”; drummer White’s tasteful Latinization of “How Am I to Know”; and the constantly supportive comping of Simmons.