Recorded January 27, 1958 in Los Angeles.
Pianist Hampton Hawes' 1950s recordings for the Contemporary label are at such a high level that they could all be given five stars. This outing with bassist Red Mitchell, drummer Shelly Manne, and guitarist Barney Kessel (who is a slight wild card) is also quite successful. Two previously unreleased numbers ("Thou Swell" and "The Awful Truth") have been added to the CD reissue. Highlights of the exciting bop date include "Yardbird Suite," "There Will Never Be Another You," and "Love Is Just Around the Corner."
All Music Guide
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The Golf Choreography and ricocheting pun aside, this album is emphatically titled Four! because it's a thoroughly four-way conversation. It is not a piano-with-rhythm-backing set in the usual sense. All the participants have much to say individually throughout. And together, the interplay and overall cohesion of these four provide a buoyant example of real collective improvisation, a way of jazz that is not as common as one would think in that many performances consist more of a string of solos with little if any challenging interplay among the players.
Hamp is the leader, though, and the basic character of the proceedings reflects clearly his conception of jazz - spontaneity, the endless source material in the blues, the power of positive swing, and straightaway emotion.
The album is also, I feel, another indication of Hamp's growing consolidation of and confidence in his particular way of feeling and communicating jazz. It's been ironic that some commentaries have implied Hamp has been influenced by the Eastern "funky" school or by a particular pianist of that entente. The fact - according to several who were there - is that Hamp had his own strongly identifiable style by the late Forties when he was gigging around Los Angeles and before he'd ever heard Horace Silver and most of the modern blues conservationists. What Hamp has been playing on Contemporary since the 1955 Hampton Hawes Vol. 1 (C3505), that established him with musicians throughout the country, had been evident in his work for several years.
Hamp's primary influences, as he stated in an interview for the notes on that first Contemporary album, were the church music with which he lived (his father was a preacher), and Charlie Parker.
In the first issue of The Jazz Review, Mimi Clar writes an introduction to what will be a series of articles on The Negro Church: Its Influence on Modern Jazz and illustrates with some musical examples how pervasive this influence has been. You can hear it in Milt Jackson, in Charlie Mingus, in the Basie band - and in Hamp. Hamp remembers hearing spirituals "close to the blues in their chord progressions" and, as Miss Clar notes, "the blues scale comprises the basic melodic language of every Negro congregation."
As for Bird, Hamp met him in 1947. Hamp was 19 and had been playing professionally for several years around his native city of Los Angeles. He was especially struck by Parker's conception of time. "I began experimenting, taking liberties with time, playing double time, or letting a couple of beats go by to make the beat stand out, not just play on top of it all the time."
In the past ten years, Hamp has worked with various modern combos - Red Norvo, Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, among them - and spent three years in the Army. He formed a trio in 1955 which included Red Mitchell. After the first Con-temporarys, Hamp made an Eastern swing, and then returned to his Los Angeles base. He's contemplating the road again, and judging by the reviews his last three-volume set received (All Night Session, C3545/6/7, he's awaited.
Hamp for the past few years has himself become an influence - you can hear varying degrees of Hamp, especially his time conception, in a number of West Coast pianists as well as young players elsewhere.
Hamp is still growing. "I think I'm playing better now," he said a few months ago, "than at any time in my life. You know, you can play in one area, searching and searching, and suddenly a door opens. I've learned new ways of voicing the chords, making them prettier and more what I want to hear. I'm more relaxed, and I can take longer solos. I now play the songs in my repertoire in different keys, and I'm learning a lot of new songs, broadening what I can say.
Show tunes, for instance. I'm finding a whole new world of material."
Hamp is a master of the blues and the blues are part of whatever he does. As Barney Kessel said recently, "He's already a great piano player in the way he swings and in his inexhaustible ideas on the blues. It may very well be that he will end up being the blues pianist of the modern era. There's no one else in modern jazz who plays the blues better than Hamp. If there is an era of improvement to come, it would be in an enlarged scope - more kinds of material and ways of playing." And Hamp continues, as noted, to work on enlarging his scope. "I still love to play the blues," he also makes clear, "and the tunes I make up are still blues. But at one time I used to concentrate on them so much, I believe I neglected other things. These days though I play even less notes in the blues, and maybe they're getting to sound more like sanctified church music. That's the sound 1 like to hear."
Spontaneity - as well as ease in the blues - is another vivid characteristic of Hamp's work. What he records is usually done on a first or second take. He really improvises, and doesn't use pre-fabricated patterns as fillers while he thinks of new ideas. He either makes it or doesn't on the basis of what he plays each instant. If his invention dims, he'd rather lay out - if circumstances permit - or just play something very simple.
'I don't like technique that sounds like technique," he says. "Like that's its only reason for being. If a guy doubles up, for example, I like to hear his phrasing. If he makes a fast run and all the notes are fast and even, I don't dig it." Hamp, in short, is not a pianist who substitutes finger facility for the making of music.
Of his colleagues here, Red Mitchell has become one of the most inventive bassists in jazz, a soloist of rare strength and individuality who also is a wholly dependable section player.
This session marked the first time in about a year that Hamp had played with Shelly Manne, a drummer who - with all his other virtues - is particularly valuable in this context of collective improvisation in that he listens to others in a unit besides himself.
Guitarist Barney Kessel is as natural a blues player as Hamp. Miles Davis recently, wanting to indicate his thorough lack of response to a certain musician, finally found the sentence of excommunication he wanted: "Why, that guy had to learn the blues." Neither Barney, nor his associates here, had to "learn" the blues in any studied sense. All they needed was to be exposed.
Yardbird Suite is Charlie Parker's. In this, as elsewhere in the record, there are spontaneous exchanges between Hamp and the others as well as solos by Red and Barney. Whether he leads a duo, trio or quartet, Hamp invariably allows his colleagues considerable solo space. "I like to hear other people play solos because it's inspiring, and gives you ideas other than your own to conjure with."
There Will Never Be Another You, taken at a brisk tempo, leaps into a hotly fused groove from the start. There is a hurtling, tumbling forward-motion to Hamp's playing that underlines the instantaneous way he experiences and makes. It's this instantaneous chance-taking of Hamp that leads to another of his qualities - an unusual immediacy. The performance like the record as a whole - is also an exhilarating experience in non-stop swinging.
Bow Jest represents Red Mitchell's first recorded bowed bass solo, and it also contains as rocking and firmly wailing a Barney Kessel statement as I've heard. Note too how Hamp comps for Kessel, or anyone. His punctuations could hardly be more functional and more of a series of resilient springboards for swinging.
To do Sweet Sue was Barney's idea, but Hamp plays it as if it were one of his own originals. Hamp's very Up Blues is further evidence of the way ideas on the blues burst from him like the kind of fireworks that climax the Fourth of July shows - the rockets that keep opening up and opening up and opening up until the sky seems in danger. Also, Hamp practices what he emphasizes as the way to play up tempos. He does phrase and he doesn't just play even, tin-soldier rows of notes. This isn't finger-busting piano; it's a piano talking the blues, maybe faster than Cow Cow Davenport or Jimmy Yancey, but just as honestly and as caught up in the compulsion of self-discovery and self-affirmation. After a characteristic, romantic ad lib introduction to Like Someone in Love, the rhythm section brings the idealization to earth and Hamp indicates that a ballad can be played tenderly with strength.
This date was the first time Hamp had played Love is Just Around the Corner. He learned it as he played it. "I started to look at the chords," he remembers, "and found I'd listened to it sometime, somewhere. I had it in my mind, I guess, because I was playing the right chords." Listen though to the assurance with which he swings the tune, as if it had been a song he had played so often he didn't have to think of the way it was put together. As usual with Hamp, it was a feeling thing. He felt the song; and was ready, therefore, to learn it as it came. Just as he felt Barney, Red and Shelly and the studio, so that he was ready to be part of their collective kicks and to open himself to what they had to say. The result is a warming, collectively improvised jazz album, in which everybody has his different story to tell, each further illuminated by the understanding of the whole.
-Nat Hentoff (October 12, 1958)