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David Hazeltine – The Time Is Now – Smoke Sessions Records SSR-1806 64:15****:

( David Hazeltine – piano; Ron Carter – bass; Al Foster – drums )

Not everything needs to be operating at the cutting edge of creativity, designed to test a listeners ability to be comfortable is some twilight zone of sound and space. Pianist David Hazeltine and his esteemed cohorts Ron Carter and Al Foster prefer a musical environment where a composition’s melody, theme, and time signature are easily identified. Such is the enjoyment derived from the release The Time Is Now on Smoke Sessions Records.

According to the extensive liner notes written by Bill Milkowski, the compositions for the album were selected by Hazeltine so as to “leave some room for the cats to create and improvise”.  The initial title track, a Hazeltine composition “The Time Is Now” gives a touch of the cap to John Coltrane’s Lazy Bird. It is a sly swinger with Hazeltine’s fleet fingered playing showing his intrepid spirit. Bassist Carter takes his broad voice through his solo turn, and drummer Foster is cooly unhurried in the drum breaks.

The ubiquitous theme to the TV series The Odd Couple which was written by Neal Hefti and Sammy Cahn, is offered at unusual  waltz-ballad tempo. Hazeltine and his cohorts use the tempo to bring the number an unexpected feeling and closeness.

Two American standards “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “Cabin In The Sky” both receive smart and interesting arrangements. On the former, there is a Latin-derived tempo which is infused with drummer Foster’s Afro-Cuban rhythm and Hazeltine’s shape shifting playing. On the latter number, drummer Foster pushes the number along with his feather light dancing brushwork as Hazeltine looks for new angles of harmonic engagement in his pianistic excursions.

One of the singular delights of this release is Hazeltine’s solo flight on James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”. Using his investigative style, Hazeltine builds his solo within a sparing melodic structure that captures improvisational passages that are precise and affecting.

Every piano release worth its salt has a Duke Ellington composition and this is no exception. “In A Sentimental Mood” is played in a clear straight ahead fashion and does not stray from the Duke’s compositional intention. For Hazeltine that means lustrous harmony and melodic lines in a clear precise style.

The closing track is another original Hazeltine composition “Signals”. Opening with an extended riff by drummer Foster on the tom-toms, the group then swings into an uptempo groove, as Carter lays down an unwavering walking bass line over which Hazeltine delivers his sharp attack in a striking voice.

Three consummate  professionals with an appreciation of shared striving.

TrackList:
The Time Is Now
The Odd Couple
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Cabin In The Sky
Blues For Eddie
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
When I’m Here With You
The Parlayer
In A Sentimental Mood
Muse Of Montgomery
Signals

—Pierre Giroux