On his second release as a leader, pianist Tardo Hammer displays a sophisticated, old-school bebop touch in a trio setting with bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Leroy Williams. While many modern pianists opt for close-voiced, impressionistic left-hand clusters as popularized by Bill Evans, Hammer harks back to the wide-interval, low-register comping style of Bud Powell, throwing elements of Monk into the mix as well. No surprise, then, that he kicks this record off with a blistering take of Powell's rhythm changes tune "John's Abbey." He goes on to tackle two classics from the old Blue Note catalog, Sonny Clark's "Somethin' Special" and Sonny Rollins' "Blues for Philly Joe," along with the standards "If I Loved You" and "You're My Thrill." (Irwin's tone on the latter is especially rich and full.) In the best Rollins tradition, Hammer also puts a bright jazz spin on the American staple "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Of his four originals, three are based on the harmonies of well-known standards. Hammer's mastery of the bop idiom inspires awe -- it comes through especially clearly when he strings together harmonic substitutions on the blues and rhythm changes. Irwin's fat sound and Williams' lively, sensitive drumming frame Hammer's ideas and interpretations with consummate taste.
Somethin' Special Review
by David R. Adler