It’s hard to believe pianist Benny Green recently turned 50—it seems like not so long ago he was a fresh-faced young lion, instilled with the hard-bop virtues of Art Blakey, with whom he worked with in the late 80s. But on his terrific new trio album Magic Beans (Sunnyside) he’s still purveying a timeless (if simultaneously time-specific) sound, delivering crisp, hard-swinging jazz in the style of his hard-bop mentors. It’s the first album in a discography going back to 1988 on which he’s stuck exclusively with original compositions, all of which he wrote in an intense burst last year.
Once again he’s supported by the excellent rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation) that formed its bond with the great Johnny Griffin as well as, later Bill Charlap. Some of the tunes are named for heroes of Green, like “Kenny Drew,” “Jackie McLean,” and “Harold Land,” but even when they don’t specifically invoke an individual, they bask in the sound of hard bop’s golden era of the 50s. The opening track, “Benny’s Crib,” for example, harks straight back to the vintage sound of Blue Note (and references the Sonny Clark tune “Sonny’s Crib”). There’s nothing novel or new about Green’s playing here—just more of the same rhythmically exhilarating, blues-drenched, and technically precise work he’s been churning out for decades—but since most of the remaining figures from the era he celebrates don’t play with the same snap and concision and most contemporaries lack his sense of economy, Green provides a valuable service. He plays the Jazz Showcase Thursday through Sunday, performing with bassist Washington and drummer David Wong.
Below you can check out the Monkish “Paraphrase,” so titled for the way it clips its melodic line from Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”