Now, The Classic Trio is meeting saxophonist Eric Alexander, not actually for the first time individually, but for the first time in The Classic Trio's format. And the results of the trio-plus-one create no real surprises, for we get what we expect. But it does create some real delights, for we get what we expect.
Having followed these always-busy musicians through their development in the 1990's, we expect like-minded musicianship marked by some personal twists to familiar tunes as well as the presentation of new compositions performed so comfortably that they seem to be the product of a relaxed conversation. And while the artists recording on The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander may find relaxation in the personal and musical friendships that that developed through the years, the apparent ease with which they play actually is the result of exceptional musicianship.
Equally contributing to the success of the CD, all of the members of the group, if you strip out their parts and listen to them individually, create some memorable moments unto themselves. Consider, then, the fact that the individual creations blend into a synthesis of group cohesiveness, and the results are not just satisfying, but gratifying, time and time again.
Following his basic approach to many of his CD's, Hazeltine has written some new tunes for The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander, as well as taking a fresh look at some familiar tunes to his liking, some of which, like "Didn't We," can't really be called standards. "On The Boulevard" kicks off the proceedings with hard bop references that are intended to express Hazeltine's delight in his new home on Long Island. Typical of all of the tunes, the first chorus of "On The Boulevard" challenges the quartet with not just the call-and-response mechanisms, but also a final stretching out of Alexander's final notes to highlight Washington's loping bass lines and Hayes' change of feel with center-of-the-cymbal work. Once Alexander takes off with his first solo, it's evident that the quality of the work remains on a high level throughout the CD.
Speaking of Alexander, one of the thrilling moments on the CD is his lead-in cadenza to "East Of The Sun," causing some listener tension about where the tune will lead and at tempo with which it will move. Well, Hazeltine has decided upon a double-time approach that brings out the best of all of the musicians, with chorus after chorus of never-repeated ideas, including the final excitement of Hayes' drum solo. The group starts "Didn't We" the same way: with Alexander, this time pouring out a long, urgent and eloquent sustained sax note, leading the group into the tune but claiming the listener's immediate attention.
The only jazz standard included on the CD is Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight," which, of course, is consistent with this group's inherent talents. And yet, even a tune like Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet" allows for harmonic revelations that previous interpretations of the tune overlooked.
Instead of involving a wide range of talents, Hazeltine seems to prefer to work with a close group of musicians who are appreciate his musical abilities and intuitively understand where he's going before he even starts to go there. The result is close-knit groups, like The Classic Trio, that provide some twists and turns to their ordinarily straight-ahead music, but more importantly that enjoy what they're doing and project their fun to audiences.