Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Busy Pianist: David Hazeltine

Product DetailsQuantity and Quality, now that's a great combination. David Hazeltine is one busy pianist and we are better off for it. This week alone I have picked up two CDs with him -- the Gilad Edelman set I posted on yesterday (My Groove, Your Move (Sharp Nine 2013)) and now "Impromptu" (Chesky Records 2013) with Hazeltine leading a trio with the inestimable George Mraz on bass and Jason Brown on drums. But in the past year I also have Hazeltine performing on "Leaps and Bounds" by Craig Wuepper (Cellar Live 2012), Dmitri Baevsky's "The Composers (Sharp 9 2012), and The New Classic Trio (Sharp Nine 2012). In all about two dozen recordings as a leader since 1995, largely on Sharp Nine and Criss Cross; and more as a sideman.

Hazeltine seem to me to be a forgotten voice in the mainstream jazz tradition that extends from Art Tatum, Bud Powell to modern masters like Barry Harris and Cedar Walton. I don't hear his name much when people talk about current pianists, but to me he embues any song he touches with grace and style, and makes straight-ahead jazz that is always interesting and accessible; even as he creatively reinterprets standards with distinctive and imaginative twists and turns he never loses sight of the basics of the melody and harmony in each tune. I like the "new" forms as much as anyone, the play of pianists like Iyer or Taborn, the lyricism of Jarrett and Mehldau, but there's plenty of room to tip a hat to the overwhelming skills of mainstream players like Walton and Barron and Hazeltine.

Here Hazeltine has taken a new path as he plays jazz interpretations of music from the classical repetoire. Specifically he and his trio reinterpret such masterpieces as "Clair de Lune", "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", "Moonlight Sonata", "Waltz of the Flowers" and "Fur Elise" along with three others. What strikes me first and foremost is the freedom he takes here in working with these tunes. Obviously he is not the first to interpret classical pieces, but to me the eight pieces here are truly integrated and played as jazz and not simply extensions of the classical tunes with a few bells and whistles added. I am not sure how to exactly convey this in this post, but if you didn't know the sources here I doubt you would ever think that these are classical songs. This is pure mainstrem jazz, tunes that take their own distinct forms from the root source, and are wonderfully imaginative. And all three players contribute mightily. There is no better way to understand what I am trying to convey than listening to "Fur Elise", where the Beethoven melody is played underneath by Mraz while Hazeltine plays a complementary theme over it. "Clair de Lune" starts conservatively but breaks into an upbeat improvisation by the trio that is anything but traditional. "Jesu" is played by Mraz upfront using syncopation and swing quarter notes, with Brown backing him with a strong jazz beat. There are also moody blues pieces, some trips into standards like "I'm forever Chasing Rainbows" popping up, and just an overall feel of good times throughout.

I find the CD great, with wholly integrated arrangements and improvisations that soaks these wonderful songs completely with jazz overtones to make these the best interpretations of classical pieces I have heard.

Thumbs way up.

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