Buck Hill

Severn Records 0039

Jazz’s most famous letter carrier is back.

Washington D.C.-based tenor saxophonist Buck Hill, who toiled most of his life as a postman has released his first CD in almost 15 years. Maybe it’s the rhythm he has in his step delivering mail, or the discipline needed for a steady job, but at 79, Hill sounds as good as ever.

Firmly in the groove, the program is a funky, unpretentious mix of blues and ballads featuring guitarist Paul Pieper, organist John Ozment and drummer Jerry Jones. Never to be confused with fellow drummers Jo, Elvin or Philly Joe, this Jones is a tasteful timekeeper who stays in the background. With lithe long-limbed solos, Pieper’s most common effect is doubling lines, as Ozment riffs in response. Diplomatic, the organist is content to cushion not overpower the others.

With his full Arnett-Cobb-out-of-Coleman-Hawkins tone Hill brings gravitas to the ballads and digs in for the faster numbers, including his own “Little Bossa”. Miles Davis was one admirer, and Hill repays the compliment with three Davis classics: “Flamenco Sketches”, “Prancing” (usually “Pfrancing”) and “Milestones”.

Not often done by organ combos, the quartet treats the material with no special reverence, turning out relaxed – that word again – streamlined versions. The only disconnect comes on the familiar “Prancing/Pfrancing”, where guitar and organ replicate the scene-setting vamps initially played by tenor saxophone and piano.

Modest in conception and execution, RELAX is the CD for listeners who prefer jazz well-played, low-key and … well … relaxed.

— Ken Waxman

CODA Issue 329