To play bebop, one needs to deal with two competing impulses: master the instrument – amass the fluency required to float at heightened tempi, navigate harmonic complexities and execute ornamented lines that are part of this music’s tradition – and utilize a relaxed phraseology that is anything but frenetic and that comes across as “not trying too hard.” No doubt, to play with the sort of authenticity that stellar musicians Tardo Hammer, Lee Hudson and Steve Williams bring to Hammer’s Swinging On A Star is difficult. But to listeners, the effort is hidden, the inventive spirit of musical collaboration and taste displayed.
In the spirit of disclosure, I, as guitarist and occasional liner-note writer, am affiliated with Cellar Live, the label on which Hammer’s disc is released. Nonetheless, as an objective jazz fan, I am routinely impressed by their expanding catalogue of great releases of which Swinging On A Star is no exception. Drinking from the well of Bud Powell, Barry Harris and Thelonious Monk, Hammer and company offer an auditory snapshot of a blue-chip jazz trio on any given night. Yes, there are arrangements and unique repertoire; however, this recording fits comfortably within the tradition of blowing sessions, wherein beauty is revealed through improvisatory extrapolations that spin forward when three masters come together in a comfortable listening environment. Overall, a swinging recording that marries beautiful songs, improvisatory excellence and, as a bonus, insightful liner notes by Morgan Childs.