Noah Haidu’s Standards II

Cover, Standards 2Standards are standards for a reason. They’re such classic, durable, memorable pieces of music with catchy melodies and emotional hooks that they can be adapted to any setting and still stir the listener’s heart. And they catch the players’ heartstrings, too. Whatever the musician brings to them — from Willie Nelson’s droll balladry to Herbie Hancock’s electric eclecticism — they’re up to the test.

Noah Haidu and his trio mates ride a middle path on Standards II, the sparkling followup to 2023’s critically acclaimed Standards. (As on that outing, pianist Haidu is joined by two legendary players, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart, who’ve been collaborating for five decades now.) Some of these chestnuts they cover with the simplicity of a hard bop trio circa 1959, and others they turn inside out, so to speak.

Take “Days Of Wine And Roses,” for example. Such a great tune! It was indelibly imprinted on me in childhood by endless AM radio airplay of the saccharin sweet easy listening version by Henry Mancini’s orchestra and chorus — and I’m afraid it was also in the stack of albums my dad listened to on our big console stereo throughout the mid-60s. Of course it was also covered in better versions by the likes of Sinatra and Bennet and Williams (Andy, that is, he of the resurgent holiday hit “Most Wonderful Time Of The Year), as well as, apparently, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass on Pablo! And many others. Definitely a standard, and Haidu, Williams and Hart play it simply but memorably. The hard bop approach is followed with the next track, too, the even more venerable “After You’ve Gone,” which has been recorded dozens of times since its birth on sheet music and Victor Records in 1918. If you’ve listened to much jazz at all, you’ll recognize this one even if its title isn’t at the tip of your tongue. They really swing it up, and Hart turns in a lively solo.

Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” is equally memorable though not nearly as old. The trio effectively mixes their approach, part ballad, part workout, with Hart pushing the emotional content during Haidu’s first solo section and Williams deftly explores the tune’s potential on his own solo turn. Speaking of ballads, I’m not sure I’ve heard a better trio presentation of “Someone To Watch Over Me.” Haidu’s voicings on this one are sublime.

Has any standard received more disparate treatments than “Over The Rainbow”? It’s the opening track, and it seems to incorporate all sorts of threads from jazz’s tapestry, from gospel to free improvisation. Only rarely do bits of Arlen’s melody float to the surface, as Hart and Williams create a free-form soundscape and Haidu plays the spaces around the notes, and occasionally lands the opening chord of a chorus or a brief run that snaps the listener into focus. Personally I’m only just learning “how to listen” to jazz impressions in this vein, and this is such a beautiful example of the form.

Standards II is everything I want from a piano trio exploring the Songbook.

(Sunnyside Records, 2024)

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Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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