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Tardo Hammer with Dennis Irwin & Jimmy Wormworth. Sharp Nine Records CD 1028-2
I sometimes stutter in the privacy of thought as I reflect upon the burgeoning number of accomplished jazz pianists on the scene today. Young lions are Eldar Djangirov, Gerald Clayton and Tigran Hamasyan. Not much older, Josh Nelson, Chris Dawson, and Randy Porter are waiting for your attention. Moving further, you'll come across Renee Rosnes, John Opferkuch, Larry Fuller, John Campbell, Roberta Piket, Mikan Zlatkovich, Pamela York, Carlos Cuevas ...on and on.
I point to the often unsuspected largesse of our contemporary jazz piano environment because many strong players stay buried in the background noise of such general good fortune. Tardo Hammer is one of those not only deserving more recognition but—with the foresight and commitment of producer Marc Edelman—now beginning to receive appropriate acknowledgement for his talent and achievement.
The album in view here, Tardo's Tempo, has that lucky swagger associated with the hippest depth of the jazz tradition ...the line of pianists that counts Hank Jones (still exuding at the highest level in his 90th year), Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris at its center.
Tardo's Tempo is an album to savor over and over. Trust me: if you own this never boring 2003 session with a trio of musicians who genuinely "hear" one another, you'll find yourself frequently plopping the disc in your music machine.
Why? First, there's that "swagger" I mentioned—a precise, impeccable time sense that literally defines The Great Age of Jazz (which has never died). Second, there's Tardo's embodiment of "the best of the best" that preceded him on his instrument. And yet, third, one never encounters any demoting "derivative" diminution in Tardo's playing. Tardo is his own man. This great album is Tardo's, first to last, a showcase for a modest man with major talent. One hears the gentleness and honesty of the man as much as the affirmation and authority of his musical command.
Nine nicely recorded explorations include "Thelonious," a nod to the magisterial Monk, concluding the session. Dizzy Gillespie's and Gil Fuller's gorgeous (too little played) ballad, "I Waited For You," establishes the album's soulful balance. And Tommy Flanagan's "Minor Mishap" stands proud at the center of the whole.
Perhaps the essential quality to note about this special pianist, Tardo Hammer, resides with his unassuming gracefulness. Too often interpretive bravado and flourish replace (or mar) the seductive lyrical power of music's inner being. We live in an era—postmodern and/or post-authoritative—in which a general loss of faith in the inherent value of beauty, good taste, and calm artistic and imaginative reflection gives way to bombast. And worse ...eccentricity for its own sake. Tardo Hammer is a pianist who works within the Great Jazz Tradition and yet who brings a strong personality with a delicate touch to his playing.
I not only respect Tardo Hammer's jazz persona. I admire and take spiritual sustenance from his artistic honesty.