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Radioville Retroview: Hank Jones, “The Oracle” (EmArcy)

June 2, 2012

The first in an occasional series of radio commentaries on neglected, overlooked or unjustly unraved about albums is here.

On the page, the reviews looks kinda like this:

Hi I’m Lloyd Sachs with a two-minute album review. Today, the first in a series of occasional looks at neglected or overlooked albums – albums that, for one reason or other, didn’t find the audience or the reputation they deserved. My first selection: The Oracle, by pianist Hank Jones, with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Billy Higgins.

Released on EmArcy, The Oracle was recorded in 1989, but sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. And maybe that was one of its drawbacks for fans of Hank Jones. It was too modern-sounding, and also had too few standards, for those who were more comfortable with the mainstream, piano-plus-bass-and-drums sound of Jones’ popular Great American Trio. On The Oracle, the three brilliant players operate on equal ground, creating a graceful, unified, beautifully intense sound that never raises its voice or highlights one player over another.

In Jones and Higgins, The Oracleboasts two players who were unsurpassed in the area of sheer touch. They had an amazing ability to achieve effortless melodic and rhythmic flow, while imparting underlying power and strength. And in Holland, who brought a relaxed feel and deep singing tones to the music and contributed three fine originals, they had a perfect partner. The album gets under your skin in the best way, whether with the hypnotic low-boil swing of the title cut or the atypically cheery rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.”

Jones, a native of Detroit and brother of Thad and Elvin, died two years ago at 91. Higgins, a native of Los Angeles, died in 2001 at 64. Holland, 65-year-old native of Wolverhampton, England, is making some of the best music of his life with his octet and big band. And he’s still making life better for pianists, having teamed up last weekend in New York with Fred Hersch and another drumming Billy, Hart. With a two-minute review of The Oracle, I’m Lloyd Sachs. Follow me on Twitter @sachsville and subscribe to my blog, jazzespress.

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