The classic trio of the unfashionably brilliant bop pianist, on excellent ballad form -- his first recording date issued at last.
This was the classic Hewitt trio, known to too few, not to be heard on record during the pianist's lifetime, taped by the man who created Smalls Records with a view toward issuing Hewitt's and other recordings from the performance venue the label's named for.
The English critic and pianist who declared Hewitt "no Barry Harris" would have been correct had he meant only that Hewitt was a very different pianist from Harris. I presume that, like quite a number of jazzmen or artists in whatever medium, that musician-critic had priorities of his own running counter to Hewitt's but not Harris's.
He might have taken more to the opener of this first of two CDs from Hewitt's initial session, recorded on his usual venue's piano behind closed doors. "I Waited for You" is a beautiful ballad performance, comparable nicely enough with what Harris does. The musicians were plainly well set to play ballads throughout that date, to judge also from a ten-and-a-half-minute "I Can't Get Started" on which Hewitt deploys a singing tone. Ari Roland's bass solo, with bare fingers rather than the bow Roland uses so often, also sings nicely on what is a beautiful little performance.
That little performance comes to a happy end with the bassist up front beside the pianist. Whereupon -- continuing a long track, an extended performance -- Hewitt begins to solo at a higher level of development, followed by bowed work from Roland which is possibly the best recording I have heard of him. On later recordings, his regular bowed solos have sometimes sounded a bit hard and forward, but here he's lighter. Prettier.
The two ballads are separated by a performance of George Shearing's "Conception", which culminates in a forceful drum solo from the late Jimmy Lovelace, who gets another workout on a "Cherokee". On that one, according to the notes, rather than play his more usual extended intro, Hewitt had the bassist and drummer set a rapid pace. It used to be a cliché in discussions of bop pianists to whom Hewitt can be compared, Hampton Hawes for one major instance, that they did actually manage to translate to the keyboard the qualities of a bop saxophone solo. That certainly applies in this case. It's relevant to questions raised by his label's management about why Hewitt went so long unrecorded that the pianist on this date opined with regret that nobody these days seemed to play at high speed. Hewitt could, and he knew what he wanted to do.
"Tenor Madness" was a nice choice for the piano trio, beside the ancient challenge of "Cherokee". Though Hewitt was obviously in a frame of mind to deliver exceptional ballad performances on this date, he liked to refresh himself and listeners with some spirited liveliness. Cleanse the palate.
Spritzer numbers apart, following the unaccompanied intro to Horace Silver's "Peace", Hewitt's ballad performance is further indication of his general state of mind on May 10th, 1996. He wasn't stuck in a ballad rut like some pianists have been. Relaxed, nothing mechanical, free-spirited, he was.