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Jeff Hamilton Trio: Great American Songs Through the Years

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For those who might think the great tradition of crisply arranged, deeply swinging piano trios ended with the passing of Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown, there is good news in the form of drummer Jeff Hamilton’s latest recording with his highly accomplished colleagues Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass. All three are members of L.A.’s celebrated Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, which Hamilton cofounded with brothers John and Jeff Clayton. His playing and sensibilities reflect the influence of the greats with whom he’s played, especially sultans of swing like Peterson, Brown, Woody Herman and Monty Alexander.

The “great American songs” of the title include gems by Gershwin, Rodgers, Porter, Mercer and Van Heusen. There are enough fastidious, occasionally jaw-dropping brush fills to leave no doubt as to the identity of the leader. Even so, Hamilton provides generous opportunities for his colleagues to strut their stuff.

A show-stopping arrangement of Rodgers and Hart’s “Falling in Love With Love” begins in E-flat, quickly modulates to G, then cleverly oscillates back and forth between keys for the remainder of the song, like a weather vane in a hard-swinging breeze. The song becomes a compelling showcase for all three soloists; Hendelman especially impresses with his elegant, tuneful playing, which recalls straight-ahead masters like Peterson and Alexander. “The More I See You” starts with Luty’s lyrical, cello-like arco on the plaintive, little-heard verse; before long, the group is swinging the tune within an inch of its life. There are also sparkling arrangements of “It Could Happen to You,” “Thou Swell” and “You Took Advantage of Me.”

After an enjoyable, if slightly dated, Latin-tinged “All or Nothing at All,” the trio closes with an unexpectedly lively reading of “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” Hendelman playing the verse behind Hamilton’s spicy triplet beat. The trio may be tradition-minded, but when you execute this well, who cares if it’s not exactly in the vanguard? They’re not out to revolutionize the music; they came to swing.

Originally Published