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P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble - Winter Winds - The Complete Works 1968-70

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Artist: P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble

Album: Winter Winds - The Complete Works 1968-70

Label: Now-Again

Review date: Apr. 5, 2010

Between 1968 and 1970, the P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble recorded three LPs. Self-released at the time in small runs (50 to 100) by teenaged bandleader, composer, pianist, and vibraphonist Phil Hewitt, they documented an enthralling and energetic — and somewhat outsider — vision rooted in post-bop modal jazz.

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hewitt was 16 when he made the first record. He was already a pilot and was also pursuing studies in the field of music as a healing agent. All of this provides a glimpse into the precocious focus and presence of mind he manifested in his music.

The first record, Jawbones, is engaging enough, with pulsing drums and walking bass lines underpinning a latin- and exotica-tinged style that might remind one of the more accessible Sun Ra small group sessions from, say, the early 1960s. (The audio verite recording style, evident on all three records, also hints in that direction.) The band plays with a distinctly youthful energy; the solos are adventurous without going particularly far outside. Best of all, there are hints of what will come later: Hewitt’s compositions, arrangements, and — especially — his work on vibes already evince an imaginative, uniquely layered approach to interweave and interaction.

Since Washington from 1969 (so-named because of a band visit to play for Nixon!) is noticeably deeper-vibed and, at times, more bluesy than its predecessor. Terry Mason’s vocals -- sometimes wordless, sometimes delivering poetic, yearning lyrics -- have become essential to the sound now; Tenor player Charley Forsberg’s tone comes across as all at once stark and open-hearted. “Sad Sunday” is utterly gripping, a gospel-tinged slow modal blues that serves as a vessel to take the musicians deep into the well of power, inspiration and surrender. The harmonized lines shared by Mason and Forsberg are soul-stirring; Forsberg’s and Hewitt’s solos rise ecstatically from the spacious construct. Even more spacious is “3 AM,” a pensive journey for voice, drums and elegantly meandering, exploratory vibraphone.

With 1970’s Winter Winds Hewitt refined and tightened things up, bringing his distinctive compositional approach to some pieces hinting at bugalu and bossa nova. The overall effect -- helped along by buoyant, dreamy vocals from soprano Sonia Valldeparas and alto Nina Scheller, in addition to drummer Rick Hearns’s energetic, sometimes rock-like propulsion -- feels like the flowering of a new style of cosmic/ ethno/ jazz /pop, one not heard before or since.

This reissue is gorgeously presented, with a detailed booklet, and each album given its own facsimile disc. Included in the booklet is a recent interview with Hewitt that reveals an adventurous life lived in the years since Winter Winds. It also reveals that he has made more music. I, for one, would love to hear it.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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