Jazz aficionados gathered at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa this week to listen to the hard-swinging Jeff Hamilton Trio.
Hamilton's trio was a hit at the indoor Newport Beach Jazz Party in February. But during Wednesday's Sunset Jazz in Newport, the more intimate rose garden venue, which accommodated 240 guests, pulled the audience into the action.
The venue was pleasant and relaxing, except when airplanes flying overhead disrupted the music. Hamilton acknowledged the disruptions humorously. In the middle of a drum solo, he stopped playing, looked over his shoulder, pouted, straightened his jacket and continued on.
The evening's set list featured the trio's twists on classic songs, in addition to tunes off its 2012 CD "Red Sparkle."
"We are happy we are the best trio you can find at these prices on a Wednesday night — except for the drummer," Hamilton joked as he greeted the crowd.
Throughout the evening's sets, Hamilton was a personable band leader and held the trio together. He often shouted at his band or cracked a joke in the middle of the song, which made the music relative and amusing at points.
But of course the playing was even more captivating.
Even diehard enthusiasts could not begin to understand the musical genius at work. Most sat in awe and let the moving music take them on a journey.
Tamir Hendelman (piano), Christoph Luty (bass) and Hamilton are the best at their respective instruments. When they unleashed their musical prowess, the entranced audience broke out into cheers and sometimes laughter. Even newbies bobbed their heads and tapped their feet by the end of the night.
First set standouts included Hamilton solos in his song "Max"; Dori Caymmi's "Like A Lover," off the Trio's "Best Things Happen"; and Milt Jackson's gut wrenching blues "Yano," which had the audience in a frenzy at every turnaround.
The second set featured "Hat's Dance," an endearing tune Hamilton and Hendelman co-wrote for Hamilton's 88-year-old grandmother, Harriet, off "Red Sparkle"; a Brazilian take on "Bye-Ya" by Thelonius Monk; Harold Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee," another tune off "Red Sparkle"; a Billy Taylor's "Easy Walker," a tune Hamilton said he played every night when he was with Oscar Peterson for five years.
Over the years, Hamilton has played with Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie Orchestra and Rosemary Clooney and has been on more than 200 recording with his trio, Peterson, Ray Brown and countless others.
Modern Drummer Magazine rightfully named him Mainstream Jazz Drummer of the Year in 2006.
He is the king of power and precision and the master of the brushes and, really, the entire kit.
Hamilton, also the driving rhythmic force behind Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, played calm and cool, then burst into thunderous precision rhythms, leaving him flush-faced by song's end. His ingenious drum fills, which startled several listeners, were the cherry on top.
Diverse pianist Hendelman, an award-winning jazz pianist, has performed with Teddy Edwards, John and Jeff Clayton, Harry Allen, Tierney Sutton, Phil Upchurch, JRickey Woodard, Sandra Booker, Barbara Morrison, and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
Hendelman's improvisational ability was staggering, as he built on ideas using the full range of keys.
His solos were married to the melody, which he finessed in a way that moved the audience.
"When it [the melody] is put in his hands, it becomes extremely fascinating," Hamilton said after Hendelman's arrangement of "Fascinating Rhythm," a crowd favorite.
Luty, longtime bassist of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, has collaborated on concerts with artists like Peterson, Brown, Diana Krall, Clark Terry, Dave Brubeck, James Moody and Shirley Horn.
Luty delivered his trademark full, natural sound, swinging bass lines and lyrical solos. He had a chance to showcase his articulate arco (with a bow) bass playing in Arlen's "Blues in the Night."
Individually, the three players were striking musicians. But together, they were an unstoppable force.
The trio's blend was seamless. Each player had an acute sense of the other during poignant moments and climactic builds that took their music to great heights.
But, what's even more intriguing is watching them communicate with each other. Their expressions of anticipation and excitement made the live performance more engaging and brought their records to life.
Only four Wednesday nights in the series remain. Jeff Hamilton takes the stage again Wednesday with Byron Stripling and Bobby Floyd Quartet.
The remaining acts include Chuck Redd Quartet on Sept. 5; Mike Costley Quintet on Sept. 12; and Judy Roberts/Greg Fishman Quartet on Sept. 19.
For more information, visit http://www.newportbeachjazzparty.com.