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Jeff Hamilton's Trio: The Beat Drums On

July 25, 1994

Why do drummers want to become bandleaders?

The appearance of Jeff Hamilton's Trio at the Jazz Bakery on Friday offered another reminder of a question for which no satisfactory answer has yet been found.

Of the three main elements in jazz performance--melody, harmony and rhythm--the drummer must defer to another player to furnish the first two. True, many drummers have led their own groups with great success, but often with essential help from their sidemen.

The case of Hamilton is puzzling. Here is a superb artist who, in partnership with the bassist John Clayton, has led one of the Southland's best big bands. As an orchestral drummer, he maintained a supple beat under the band; as leader of a trio at the Bakery, he too often played over the group, occasionally leaving the admirable pianist Larry Fuller semi-audible. Jesse Yusef Murphy was more fortunate; during one or two of his splendid bass solos, Hamilton switched from sticks to brushes or laid out altogether.

Playing tunes from their CD "Hamilton Time," the threesome achieved some moments of quiet, chordal beauty, as in Murphy's gently persuasive "Blues for You." Hamilton's high points were his flamboyant solos and a breakneck treatment of the old Woody Herman hit "Apple Honey."

Pianist Fuller took the chief honors in an elegant version of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere." With all due respect to Hamilton, this group would have worked better as the Larry Fuller Trio.

Hamilton has earned a well-deserved reputation in settings that have not called for his services as a major-domo. One can only hope that he has not permanently given up that subservient but significant role.

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