Review by Brad Walseth
Tenor saxophonist Jeff Hackworth grew up in Buffalo, New York, which many people might not know has a long tradition of having an active jazz scene. Hackworth cut his teeth playing for demanding club audiences in the area, as well as stints on the road with hard-driving bandleaders Matt "Guitar" Murphy Buddy Morrow (in his version of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra). The traditions passed down to him, as well as his rigorous apprenticeship, have served to produce a player whose style and sound exhibits both charm as well as technique.
Hackworth is now located in New York City and has recently released a fine album of standards called "How Little We Know." Produced by Houston Person and engineered by the legendary jazz engineer, Rudy Van Gelder, the album is a throwback to the days when musicians played 'Songs." Not that this is soppy, old-fashioned stuff. Person assembled a strong supporting cast of real players for his protege, including Norman Simmons on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Chip White on drums. Guitarist Peter Hand joins the core group on several cuts, and the ensemble plays wonderfully together, providing an energetic backdrop for their session leader.
With a big, bold sound without being overbearing, Hackworth's sound has been compared to sax players like Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, and Person himself. He can growl or play it silky smooth, but it is Hackworth's strong sense of melody that really stands out. His song choices range from Teddy Edwards' "Sunset Eyes," Buddy Johnson's "They All Say I'm the Biggest Fool," to Hammerstein & Kern's "Why Do I Love You," and Duke's bluesy "I'm Just a Lucky So and So," proving the man has some great taste and an enviable repertoire.
Although a description of this music as straight-ahead jazz might tend to dissuade some listeners, do not be fooled: this is not only exciting music, but it is one hell of a good time to listen to. The presentation is so consistently good throughout - from the catchy opener, "Sunset Eyes" to the memorable version of "Don't Take Your Love From Me" that closes the album, and as such, it is difficult to choose highlights. The title track swings seductively, while "Biggest Fool" envisions a smoky lounge, a bottle of scotch and heartache. Simmons is a consummate pro on the keys, and Hand also shines here in support; I am especially enamored of the tunes the guitarist appears on.
Through it all the band is completely in sync, and Hackworth swings like a demon on uptempo charts like "My Lean Baby," and "All or Nothing at All;" burns on the Latin-tinged "How Am I to Know;" and seduces on the ballads like "Tenderly" and "This is Always." Perhaps his take on the bouncy "Why Do I Love You" sums up the charm of this up-and-coming young saxophonist's approach with its happy-go-lucky strain that belies the talent underneath: Jeff Hackworth takes compelling songs and through his talent and experience makes it seem easy. Thanks for the great album, Jeff, tell the bartender I'll have mine on the rocks.