Review by Brad Walseth
From down south Atlanta way comes this recent release from Texas-born saxophonist Mace Hibbard. When Last We Met is a surprisingly strong recording of straight ahead jazz featuring some of Atlanta's top jazz musicians playing Hibbard's appealing brand of original modern standards. With a rhythm section of Louis Heriveaux on piano, drummer Justin Varnes and bassist Marc Miller (with special guest Bryan Leitch on guitar on four tracks) providing able support, Hibbard is able to spread his wings on alto, soprano and tenor - proving he is a new voice to be reckoned with in the future.
Opener "Captain Caveman" highlights Hibbard's Cannonball-flavored alto over an aggressive rhythm attack fed by Varnes' manic drumming. Heriveaux cooks up some savory keyboard chops that add to the spicy texture, while Miller's bass foray is another tasty ingredient in this delicious southern-fried concoction. The title track follows, and slows things down a bit with Hibbard's haunting soprano theme floating like a firefly over a quiet evening breeze. Guitarist Leitch darts through like a Kingfisher in flight with some nice lines, and pianist Heriveaux shines again, but it is Hibbard again who makes this such a memorable excursion. Miller starts off the funky groove on the enjoyable "Reverend Boots 'n' Ball," and Hibbard shows he's no slouch playing a big bluesy tenor either.
As the son of noted jazz trumpeter Dave Hibbard, Mace clearly grew up around great music, and it shows in his wide-ranging compositional styles as well as his accomplished playing. "Cruisin' on Colcord" is a jaunty finger-snapper with Hibbard back on his polished soprano. Meanwhile, "The Tempest" is a moody, slow piece that rises and falls as if it were made of oceanic waves. "One for 44" kicks in with another intriguing groove, while "Lullabye for Alex" is a breathtakingly gentle ballad graced by Hibbard's lovely swirls and Heriveaux's flowing lines. "Town Lake" is another mid-tempo grooving piece with a melody that sticks in your head - perfect for driving down a country road in summer, while "Better Than Most" is a charming waltz. The humorously titled "Raiders of the Lost Marc' is perhaps the most adventurous number (as befitting its title) with Hibbard's frantic soloing as the band chases him relentlessly like a giant boulder down a narrow tunnel. Leitch adds an edgy solo as well here as if to keep everyone on their toes. "My Prayer" ends the album on a quiet note, but one that makes you wish there was more.
His name may not yet be a house-hold one, but with this collection of well-written tunes presented in such an exemplary manner, Mace Hibbard has entered into the company of top young saxophonist/composers on the current stage. It is this writer's firm belief you will be hearing more from this talented young artist and his cohorts - and that you will be glad you did.