All too often, the elder statesmen of jazz tend to either succumb to cantankerousness or drift off into kitsch. Octogenarian pianist Hank Jones, however, brings his decades of experience into play without the slightest whiff of attitude: His tenor, as evidenced at this rare Manhattan club date, is that of a wizened uncle, eager to impart his wisdom, but careful not to do it by force-feeding.
Opening with a vibrant, softly glowing rendition of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” Jones seemed intent on enveloping his audience in a plush sonic cloak — creating an ambiance that split the difference between easy comfort and sleek sophistication. Loping languidly across the keys on a wistful version of “Lady Luck” (written by his late brother, cornetist Thad Jones), he accentuated the former element in the friendliest of fashion.
Given a resume that includes stints with artists as varied as Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker (whose “Now’s the Time” provided one of the perf’s grittier interludes), you’d expect Jones to show plenty of range in concert. And on that front, he didn’t disappoint, segueing deftly between earthy be-bop vamping and elegant melody-spinning — even merging the two on a querulous version of Mary Lou Williams’ “Lonely Moments.”
Jones isn’t the kind of player who sets out to dazzle. Eschewing flash, he solos with a surprising dexterity — engaging his audience and fellow musicians in a dialogue that’s rife with complete sentences, but short on exclamation points. Bassist George Mraz, a frequent collaborator of Jones’, shares that musical lexicon, as borne out by the loose, arcing solos he dropped into several tunes.
Guest soloist Joe Lovano, who joined the trio for the final third of the 75-minute set, offered some pleasantly burnished solos that ultimately seemed more decorative than expressionistic. The saxophonist, masterful at tailoring his tone to fit his surroundings, lopped off a good bit of his higher register and forswore some of his more intense tendencies. A bit more edge wouldn’t have hurt, but Lovano’s gently applied icing suited this sweet evening just fine.