Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton: 'Round Midnight

Challenge Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: 'Round Midnight

We don’t hear true traditional jazz much these days. When bop came along, its influence changed almost everything: melodic lines, meter, chord structure and — most significantly — the way the instruments were played. But not everybody fell into the new ways. This album features a quintet of “traditionalists” who take us back to the pre-bop era, when swing was king. 

Surprise! These guys are younger than you might expect. Tenor sax player Harry Allen is in his mid-40s, while tenor cohort Scott Hamilton is in his 50s. Pianist Rossano Sportiello is just 40; bassist Joel Forbes is in his 50s; and drummer Chuck Riggs is the “elder statesman,” in his 60s. Hamilton is the best known of the group, probably because his early career included a stint with the Benny Goodman band. And while these five guys have played together for many years, they’ve also worked with today’s well-known musicians and vocalists.

Allen and Hamilton deliver some of the smoothest, most beautifully toned tenor sax you’ll ever hear ... and it’s hard to tell them apart at times. Their idols included the likes of Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz and Zoot Sims: four of the best at that instrument. 

The rhythm section also is a clone of the best who were heard during the Swing Era. You won’t be able to keep your feet from tapping, or your fingers from snapping.

The album menu matches that time period, as well. Most of the melodies will be familiar, and you’ll also know the lyrics: “My Melancholy Baby,” “Baubles, Bangles And Beads,” “Lover” and the album’s title tune, the lovely “ ’Round Midnight.” Everything is danceable: even less familiar jazz standards such as “Great Scott” and “Flight of the Foo Birds.”

This is great swing for at home, at a club, or in a dance hall. Whatever your generation, this music is a joy to experience.

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