The Hammer Klavier Trio is jazz as it lives and breathes today. Three bright musicians use acoustic and electric instruments in a fun and unfussy concoction of classical jazz and contemporary rhythms that feels right for this moment. Their quirky and earnest melodies, sharp rhythms and hipster attitudes acknowledge with appreciation jazz’s recent and older past, but are inspired not fettered by it. In fact, it frees them. So HKT keyboardist Boris Netsvetaev adds an edgy touch of electronics on “Hysterioso,” his variant of Thelonius Monk’s “Mysterioso,” for no other reason than because it brings a smile, and the groove cut by bassist Philipp Steen and drummer Kai Bussenius is in step with how people move.
And the rest of Rocket in the Pocket demonstrates equal confidence, though after the lyrical, impressionism à la Bill E vans feel of “A Sketch in Dark Colours” you don’t expect the dirty Fender Rhodes distortion effect Boris employs in his solo on “Suicide Train.” Or Philipp’s lead bass part on “Tekla,” with Boris’ haunting backdrop of a voicing. Or the free-time episode at the center of “Plan B,” followed by chordal figurations reminiscent of a Herbie Nichols composition. But you accept it all, since these three clearly know what they’re doing, and it’s exciting.
Those are two reasons why the Hammer Klavier Trio has made many a strong impression and won an ever broadening fan base since forming at the Hamburg University of Music and Theater in 2002, where its members first met at a concert of the Joe Lovano-Bill Frisell-Paul Motian trio. The genuine originality of St. Petersburg-born Netsvetaev’s compositions and arrangements, and the sensitive flexibility by which Steen and Bussenius make the music their own are two more. The intriguing drama and engaging playfulness heard throughout this album, though, are the main things. No other explanation is necessary to enjoy this music than hearing “Rocket in the Pocket,” the album’s title track. It shows off what HKT weaves together and how. A backbeat as funky as any in-crowd needs, a motor goosing Boris’ elegantly precise and unerringly decisive piano line, Steen and Bussenius synchronizing their parts into an irresistible rhythm. Happy surprise! You can dance to it!
Good music wins out: the path from the release of HKT’s 2008 recording debut Now I Know Who Shot J. F. K. to the issue of Rocket in the Pocket has been marked by positive steps. These include the trio’s Überjazz festival set, a clip of which can be seen on Youtube. The Jazz Journalists Association nominated the video for a 2011 Jazz Award, and digging the music too, featured HKT at its annual Jazz Awards gala at City Winery that June. The trio developed the opportunity to perform before the jazz media elite into an NYC mini-tour that reached NYC’s hard-core aficionados, with gigs at Small’s, Miles Café, the Garage, Puppet’s in Brooklyn and the German General Consulate.
HKT was welcomed everywhere. “When’s your next recording?” people asked. Here it is, Rocket in the Pocket. Launch and soar.
Howard Mandel, president, Jazz Journalists Association