For one thing, it is so nice to hear a live recording, recorded months before anybody had even heard the word COVID-19. The sound and feel of the audience and their appreciation is palpable. It makes you long to sit in a club again and hear great music.
And that's what this album is, great music.
With Max Haymer on piano is David Robaire on bass and Dan Schnelle on drums. The trio is well-suited to play together as Robaire and Schnelle adeptly match Haymer’s robust style.
Six of the nine tracks are Haymer originals. He proves that, not only does he have the performance chops, he is a brilliant composer.
The album opens with Cole Porter’s So in Love. The trio wastes no time is setting high expectations for all that is to follow. Robaire and Schnell maintain the lively pace when Haymer tears open the Latin Jazz section. The spirit of Sandoval was clearly in the room. I was hooked from the start.
Whirlwind, the title track and a Haymer original, is a Jazz waltz. It’s not the fast and furious piece that the title implies. It is a lovely piece whose triplet meter reminded Haymer of a “whimsical tornado.”
Proof of Evil, is a dually-inspired piece from Herbie Hancock’s Actual Proof and Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. You just have to love this one. The trio is just so tight and so precise. Brilliant.
Speak Low is the Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash tune from the 1943 musical One Touch of Venus. Haymer’s version is an excellent tribute to Weill’s original and interprets well the Nash lyrics Speak Low/When You Speak Love. It is the slowest tempo on the whole album. But with that is the controlled energy that is so well released throughout the rest of the album. Beautifully done.
Another Haymer original, Gold Plated Dime, has the whimsy and energy to pull off this piece about a huckster. The humor and deception are all too evident. The trade between force and delicacy is outstanding. So much fun.
Welcoming, another Haymer composition, was inspired by the birth of his first daughter. Almost a lullaby, it becomes a tone poem of early-early-morning feedings and the “dreamy feeling of love” he felt. This is one of those songs that you hope will never end.
Killing Time is the introduction to Passed Time. Haymer recalls the long stays in hotel rooms, when touring with Sandoval, in places with nothing to do. Beginning with an extended, leisurely musing, the song picks up with what must be the thought of getting out of there.
The album ends with the other Cole Porter tune, Love for Sale. Now this is how you end a live set. They leave it all on the stage. The Art Tatum virtuosity of Haymer with the precision of Robaire and Schnelle (sit tight for his solo) make for a fun and high octane conclusion to a splendid album.
Whirlwind: Live at Sam First is just what the doctor ordered in our time of seclusion and quarantine. To hear an appreciative crowd and an exemplary trio playing hot compositions makes Max Haymer more than a placebo. It’s the real stuff.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl