Hank Jones ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 5/5

Hank Jones was unquestionably one of the all-time great pianists, spanning several decades and outlasting virtually all his contemporaries, and one of the most likeable and refined human beings you could ever wish to meet. His influence on the sadly departed and, in her own right, highly influential pianist, Geri Allen, cannot and should not be underestimated. Jones was one of the three jazz musician brothers including trumpeter and band leader, Hank, and drummer Elvin.

This overarching set of four recordings spans his early career between 1947 and 1956, and it captures him in blistering form. The earliest, ‘Urbanity’, is probably the best known, originally on the Verve label, and that is partly down to the lovely, if slightly racy, cover illustration of a beautiful lady looking out of a tenement window. The music is equally enticing and has a line-up that oscillates between trio and quartet formats, with Ray Brown on bass, Johnny Smith on guitar and Louis Hayes on drums. There is a noteworthy Jones original in ‘Blues for Lady Day’, and yes Hank Jones did accompany the great Billie Holiday in her prime. Elsewhere the selection and execution is quite simply impeccable, with ‘Little Girl Blue’, ‘Yesterdays’ and an intricate ‘Tea For Two’, the pick of a very distinguished bunch.

A trio only album greets the listener as the second part of the first CD and this continues the format of classy interpretations of the standard repertoire with two originals to start the album off on a high note. Wendell Marshall on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums make up the solid trio and it is the two lengthiest cuts, both from the pen of Rodgers and Hart, that impress most, ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘There’s a Small Hotel’.

Guest musicians abound on the Trio Plus recording that is the introduction to CD 2. Marshall and Clarke are split only when Eddie Jones takes over bass duties, but the addition of brass in flautists Herbie Mann and Jerome Richardson, and trumpeters Donald Byrd and Joe Wilder, makes for a subtle and larger ensemble sound. A couple of originals include the wonderful ‘Hank’s Pranks’, while once again the standards are revisited, as on ‘How High The Moon’, and a second reading of ‘Little Girl Blue’. Flutes were clearly a favourite accompanying instrument of Hank Jones and the final album features a stunning line-up with Belgian flautist, Bobby Jaspar (the subject of a lovely re-issue by Avid this year), Paul Chambers on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. Extended versions of Parker’s opus, ‘Relaxin’ at Camarillo’s’ (Joe Henderson would cover this for Milestone in the 1970s) and of Cannonball Adderley’s ‘Spontaneous Combustion’, vary the tempo between the expert balladry work of the opener, ‘Moonlight Becomes You’.

This wonderful budget price series is wholeheartedly recommended to those on a limited budget, but nonetheless do not wish to skimp on the quality of the music. Excellent discographical notes and original album back liner notes (and generally legible) make for a superb package and a terrific learning experience for even the more seasoned students of the music among us.

Tim Stenhouse