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The Frank Hewitt Quartet: Four Hundred Saturdays: Live at Smalls

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Producer Luke Kaven is issuing as much of the late Frank Hewitt’s work as he can, culling albums from the many hours of live recordings the pianist made over the course of some 1,000 performances at Smalls in New York City. This one comes from August 1999 and features Hewitt’s quintet: Chris Byars on tenor sax, Mike Mullins on alto sax, Ari Roland on bass and the late Jimmy Lovelace on drums. It’s a rough and ready group. No neobop slickness or jazz-school pretense here–this is the real deal: hardcore bebop, rough-edged and in the moment.

Lovelace and Roland form a gritty, no-nonsense rhythm team, and Hewitt uses them to good advantage, wailing over them in his hard-swinging and rhythmically tortuous manner. The two saxophonists are callow and not too interesting in and of themselves. As apprentices to an older master, however, they serve a practical (and perhaps even an aesthetic) purpose. After hearing Hewitt’s first two posthumously issued releases, I was blown away. With this third, the thrill of discovery is muted. Still, it’s a treat to hear such an authentic voice as his breathe new life into a sometimes tired form.