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The Great Jazz Trio: Objects Appear Closer

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This is the original edition of Hank Jones’ Great Jazz Trio, with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. The four-CD box contains four studio sessions that were originally released as four LPs on the Japanese East Wind label in the late ’70s.

Labels like Columbia/Legacy and Mosaic have set the bar very high in terms of production standards for jazz reissue projects. This set (which actually could have fit on two CDs) gets a B-. East Wind was a label with audiophile aspirations (it made some direct-to-disc recordings), yet no information is provided here about engineers, original recording methods or remastering processes. The sound quality is adequate, but not exceptional. The (unaccredited) liner notes are minimal.

But the music is valuable. Carter/Williams was one of the most dexterous rhythm sections in the history of jazz. Hank Jones was and is an artist of such intuitive refinement, fluent in such a huge, crucial swath of jazz history (roughly from swing to postbop), that his version of every song he plays sounds Biblical in its definitiveness. His lucent touch and natural grace make erudite reharmonization and headlong swing into something patrician and polite.

Much of the fascination of this cooperative ensemble comes from dynamic contrast. There is the subtle phrasing and shading of 60-year-old Jones, and then there is the complex aggression of the bassist and drummer, 19 and 27 years younger, respectively. With Carter and Williams, the distinction between soloing and accompaniment blurs.

The program emphasizes classic jazz standards (“Mr. P.C.,” “All Blues,” “A Night in Tunisia,” “Milestones,” “Wave”) in comprehensive, elegant renderings. On “A Child Is Born,” Jones’ lyrical sensibility arrays the melody in pinpoints of light, illuminated one at a time. But because of Carter/Williams, most ballads get pushed and accelerated, even “My Funny Valentine” and “I Remember Clifford.”

There is a paradox attached to the trio work of Hank Jones. Whereas his solo music is almost always sublime, infused with a sense of sheer joy, in his trio playing he often sounds like he goes into autopilot, untouchable and immovable, given over to process. Still, Hank Jones on autopilot is more fun than most pianists in the throes of inspiration.