The Great Jazz Trio – At the Village Vanguard Vol. 2 – Test of Time Records TOT-6, 38:07 ****:
(Hank Jones, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Tony Williams, drums)
These are two of the three reissue CDs presenting the best of the six hours which was recorded live at NYC’s Village Vanguard February 18, 19 and 20, 1977. It was originally released on the Japanese jazz label East Wind, which also did several excellent direct discs. Not in this case though, since the the labor-intensive requirements of cutting direct-to-disc would not have worked in the live club recording environment. Test of Time Records is selecting some of these rare jazz recordings of the late 1970s for reissue on CD. In the process they are converting the analog masters to the hi-res DSD process, which uses 64 times the sampling rate of 44.1 CDs, and then downsampling to CD format. The original recording session was engineered by the late great David Baker, who is known for his many impressive jazz recordings.
It was young drummer Tony Williams who suggested the three players team up. They had only played together twice before this date, but the chemistry was so great at the Vanguard that the owner Max Gordon christened the group The Great Jazz Trio. It stuck and they had many more gigs. Pianist Hank Jones is one of the finest keyboardists in jazz. His influences include Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. Perhaps the latter’s improvisations on the classics are responsible for the classical piano suggestions one hears in Jones’ work, but during his long career he has played every style of jazz. He was one of the first in the beginning bebop scene, recording with Charlie Parker among others. He was accompanist for vocalists Ella Fitzgerald as well as Frank Sinatra. He never had huge commercial success – some say due to his retiring and modest manner.
All the tracks on both CDs are longish for plenty of relaxed variations on a their themes; they run from eight to over 12 minutes. Randy Weston’s classic Hi-Fly, which opens the first CD, gets full time to work out a tight and tuneful treatment. The rhythm section of Carter and Williams can do no wrong; they support and interact with Jones superbly, and Williams plays his drum set with restraint and good taste. The first disc presents five standards and gives one 13 minutes more music than the second disc. Vol. 2 opens with Charlie Parker’s Confirmation, confirming for me what a lovely, swinging piece this is, even when delivered in a more laid-back manner is heard here. Miles’ Nardis is the longest and centerpiece of this disc, allowing for improvisations stressing the exotic nature of the tune. The audience is very respectful at the Vanguard, one can forget it’s a live recording unless you run the level up really high.
– John Henry