Hank Jones has to be one of the most consistent pianists in mainstream jazz. He may not be the most adventurous, but he has successfully shaped a career around a simple premise, "to be an interpreter of great music." He is intensely lyrical, and even in the most extreme throws of improvisation never loses site of the essence of the material.
Richard Davis has a career that has covered everything from classical music to mainstream jazz to more Avante works. While providing a solid anchor to the trio, he is not content simply to provide a walking bass below these mostly swinging pieces; he brings something new to every one of the standards on the recording, with a melodic sensibility that matches that of pianist Jones.
Youngest of the three Jones brothers (trumpeter Thad Jones is the other brother to make a name for himself in mainstream jazz), Elvin is of course best known for his groundbreaking work with John Coltrane’s classic quartet of the 1960s. But while over thirty-five years have passed since that landmark group, Jones has by no means been resting on his laurels; with his own group, The Jazz Machine, and guest work with artists as diverse as Cecil Taylor and Bill Frisell, he remains as creative and contemporary as ever; his drum sound is instantly recognizable.
The programme contains some pieces from the Great American Songbook. The title track is given a medium-tempo reading; Davis takes the lead to state the melody on "Bye Bye Blackbird". The group also covers some great jazz standards; their version of Monk’s "Rhythm-A-Ning" is true to the humour of the original, while throwing in a rhythmic surprise of its own. The 6/4 Oliver Nelson blues, "Six and Four", is lifted by Elvin Jones’ drumming, which is lightly busy while still maintaining a solid sense of time.
What lifts this session above the multitude of "standards" sessions recorded these days is the sense of immediacy; the trio plays these well-worn charts as if it was the first time they’d seen them. From the tender "My Funny Valentine" to the lightly-swinging "Take the ‘A’ Train", the trio plays with confidence and complete commitment. Autumn Leaves may be recorded by a trio of septuagenarians and octogenarians, but they play together with a youthfulness that says that their best years are by no means behind them; they are still capable of bringing an energy and vitality to a programme of standards, making this one of the best mainstream releases of 2002.