Pianist Frank Hewitt passed away in 2002 at the age of 66. His life and work was spent mostly in the small clubs dotting New York City. He had a famous eight-year run of continual gigs at Smalls on Saturdays and Sundays, and it was during this series of gigs many of today’s young talent would go to pay homage, respect and to learn. While it’s unfortunate all of his recordings have been released posthumously, we are fortunate that live recordings from his time at Smalls are now being released. It is from these gigs Out Of The Clear Black Sky comes. The seven cuts here were all recorded on April 11 and November 19 of 2000 and they feature his regular working trio, with Ari Roland on bass and Jimmy Lovelace on drums.
Hewitt’s style is an eclectic and stylish mix of a variety of different influences. You can hear Monk, Bud Powell, Al Haig, and Horace Silver, but it’s the way Hewitt would combine all four that made him such an individual. For example, on the Rodgers and Hart standard "Lover" there is a definite mix of Monk’s off-kilter articulation style mixed with Powell’s sweeping right hand flourishes, as well as Haig’s stride style combined with Silver’s left hand rhythmic punctuations. The result is a style highly influenced and referential to the masters, but still sweet enough for the average piano bar audience to be captivated.
His cohorts are equally talented. Lovelace, who passed away in 2004, was a veteran of bands led by George Benson and Wes Montgomery. His playing is empathetic with regard to his fellow musicians, but perhaps more importantly he knows how to stay out of the way and play in total support when needed. On the Rodgers and Hart "I Married An Angel" he lays back and gives Hewitt tons of open space without sacrificing elegance and collaboration. Hewitt’s solo is so pointedly syncopated that the addition of any addition rhythmic backing would have detracted from the story Hewitt tells.
Ari Roland, a bebop child prodigy, is the perfect foil to his older allies. His intonation is impeccable; his lines outline the chords yet move in symbiosis with the harmonic implications Hewitt sets out, and his taste with regard to dynamic shadings in conjunction with what goes on around him in the ensemble is unique. Roland’s technical strengths are highlighted in his solos. Doing them with both the bow and without, he fashions lines in the same manner the best horn players do; moving with and beyond the implications inherent in his axe.
This disc is a great collection of standards and one Hewitt original from a one of a kind legend few in the broader jazz world had ever heard of, but trust me, those inside the art recognized his worth and could be found stealing his licks on many weekends. There’s nothing flashy here, just nice after-hours jazz by a certifiable master.