Thursday, July 16, 2020

Veteran drum maestro highlights trio dexterity in 'Catch Me If You Can'

Jeff Hamilton takes care of business.
With his Hoosier roots impeccable (born in Richmond) and his durability a source of justifiable pride, Jeff Hamilton has held a place on the A-list of drummers for several decades. His new trio recording, "Catch Me If You Can" (Capri) adds to the distinction.

This is not an artist focused on breaking new ground, however.
If personality and the skillful means to express it count for much, Jeff Hamilton is an understandable role model for how to put one's stamp on an ensemble while projecting individuality as well.

You will find his mainstream concept of (what is usually called) the jazz piano trio worthy of the conventions it adheres to and  refreshes throughout these ten tunes.

He chooses sidemen with an expert knack for amplifying his vision; the pianist, Tamir Hendelman, has been with him for more than 20 years. The new bassist, Jon Hamar, fits right in. And the style allows the range of nuance and technical aplomb in the leader's drumming to be essential to the picture without dominating it.

The firmness and transparency of the Jeff Hamilton Trio's presentation is immediately effective on the opening track, "Make Me Rainbows." The song has lots of space between its phrases, ideal for showing off Hamilton's inviting brushwork and the variety of tone he gets from his cymbals.

George Cables' "Helen's Song" is a shrewd followup, again marked by exquisite cymbals. Hendelman's left hand and Hamar's bass set a pattern from which the tune  effortlessly leaps up.

There are  three tunes explicitly repurposed from big-band settings: Thad Jones' "Big Dipper," Artie Shaw's "Moonray," and Woody Herman's "Bijou." On the Herman-associated Ralph Burns tune, Hamilton's tom-tom solo is pungent and concise. "Moonray" is quite trio-oriented, despite its big-band origins, showing that Hamilton is not wedded to explicit tributes to a genre in which he's done excellent work.

Hamar's original tune "The Barn," though written for this group, sounds like a big-band piece ready for some current big band to take up to repay the tribute. The bassist's virtuosity gets a fine showcase in his own "Bucket o' Fat," which has an attractive calypso or "islands" feel and includes an idiomatic brushes solo.

The disc's title tune, a challenging contribution by Hendelman to the trio's repertoire, shows off the group's unity with a stop-start line that puts every man on his mettle. For the listener, it's just exhilarating.  I suggest catching the Jeff Hamilton Trio if you can.

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