Nicholas Hoffman

Blues for Eddie

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For his third album, Nicholas Hoffman finds himself with old and new friends. The familiar faces are tenor sax man Hadley Caliman and drummer Mark Ivester. New recruits to the Hoffman group are Hans Brehmer on piano and Swedish bass player Peter Axelsson. The song list includes one standard, with the rest of the material contributed by the players or other composers. Hoffman stays with his medium-juiced guitar, favoring single-string picking with occasional chordal effects for resonance and feeling. This style is an effective counterpoint to Caliman's boppish sax, with occasional soulful overtones, and Brehmer's piano, which leaves lots of space between measures. The benefits to the listener of this collaboration are many, especially on two ballads. "Eyes of a Child," written by Swedish pianist Göran Lindberg, has Brehmer's piano anchoring some very tender playing by Hoffman and pensive, melodic contributions by Caliman. The other ballad, "Blues for Eddie," written by Axelsson in honor of Chicago pianist Eddie Boyd, has a similar arrangement. Both tracks find the playing so gentle it's as if everyone were walking on eggs. Gentleness notwithstanding, there is a certain amount of tension in the latter tune, with the sax lined up against piano and guitar. But the eventual entry of Axelsson's dark-toned bass toward the end of the tune offers relief. These two outstanding cuts are enough to justify adding the album to your collection. But there are other juicy morsels as well, including some distinctive ensemble playing on "Gabor's Elephant Dance" and exuberant bop renditions of Tommy Flanagan's "Freight Trane" and Dexter Gordon's "Fried Bananas." Each of his albums headlines solid, straight-ahead jazz, and this one ramps him up a rung or two on the jazz guitar ladder. Recommended.

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