Ken Hatfield recruits some of New York’s finest, but undersung, musicians to accompany him on his fourth CD, Phoenix Rising,
which combines his penchant for self-composed Brazilian music with tunes derived from his jazz influences. Not surprisingly, one of those tunes pays tribute to Jack McDuff, in whose group Hatfield performed. The only thing missing on "Riff for Brother Jack" is the B-3, perhaps appropriately. After all, who could adequately fill McDuff’s shoes? With that track, Hatfield ends Phoenix Rising
with his own trio’s groove, not only giving his group one last shot at demonstrating their cohesion and proficiency, but also creating the realization that Hatfield is nothing if not versatile.
Even though the tracks on the CD vary from the introspective waltz of "Retroflexion" to the jauntiness of "Yo Es," the clarity of Hatfield’s articulation and the acruity of his musical imagination remain consistent throughout. It’s obvious that Hatfield gives a lot of attention to the sound of his instrument. His adherence to the use of nylon strings, over steel’s, draws attention to the inviting sound of the instrument, with its natural resonance and its implicit cultural references to folk and classical music.
Hatfield has established like-minded compatibility in Hans Glawischnig on bass and Duduka da Fonseca on drums, who had previously played on Hatfield’s Dyad
CD. He allows enough space for the other two members of the trio to make their own significant contributions during the course of the recording, such as Glaswischnig’s buoyant arco solo over several choruses of "Yo Es," which is reminiscent of the style of Major Holley. The tightness of the group is particularly evident on "Combray," which pianist Dom Salvador joins in as well. The loping of the deeply rooted bass lines conjoined with the supporting drum work that nevertheless provides an alternative metrical perspective attains an appealing complexity that adds to the success of the arrangement.
For the first time, Hatfield has added horns on 4 of the tracks, and he chose wisely. Both Claudio Roditi and Billy Drewes understand Hatfield’s aesthetic sensibilities, and they contribute voices that broaden the music’s colors, albeit with different tonalities. On "Meroë" and "Iberia," Roditi plays with seemingly relaxed appeal and mature assurance in such a way that, even with the overdubbing of his trumpet by his own flugelhorn playing on "Iberia," his interaction with Hatfield flows seamlessly, even as Hatfield notches up the intensity with flamenco references. Drewes downplays his part for the attainment of musical unity as well. On "The Aleph," the saxophonist invests the waltz with a swaying singing quality until, like Roditi, he softly plays harmony under Hatfield’s lead. And Drewes refers to Stan Getz just as Hatfield recalls Charlie Byrd’s work on his bossa nova composition, "For Jeanette," much as Salvador facilitates Hatfield’s recollections of Django Reinhardt’s spirit on "Yo Es."
Always exploring new forms, even as he remains true to his inspirations, Ken Hatfield has recorded a technically impressive and instantly enjoyable CD that, in some respects, is his most elaborate yet.