Whirlwind Live at Sam First
Los Angeles pianist Max Haymer is releasing his first live album – Whirlwind: Live at Sam First. For a piano trio album, this one effuses plenty of energy, as listeners will detect first from the fast-moving, engaging music, only to be confirmed by the enthusiastic audience reception. Before Covid Haymer had been touring the globe as the pianist for ten-time Grammy Winner Arturo Sandoval. Haymer also has been jazz icon Jane Monheit’s featured pianist and has been showcased on her new duo performances. Haymer continues to build on a career where he received early accolades as a 19-year-old, winning 2nd prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition. You can hear Haymer’s piano playing featured on Clint Eastwood’s latest feature films, Richard Jewell, as well as The Mule, another strong endorsement given Eastwood’s knowledge of and association with jazz. This follows Haymer’s 2008 release, Pickpocket Witness, which flew under the radar and the pianist was unable to find time to record in the interim due to his aforementioned touring.
Haymer is an athlete and attended UC Irvine on a soccer scholarship where he spent four years playing Division 1 soccer. His approach to the piano reflects his athleticism, and his aesthetics have been largely shaped by his years with Sandoval. Here in this live setting, before the pandemic shut down live shows at the popular L.A. club, Sam First, Haymer leads his trio of David Robaire on bass and Dan Schnelle on drums. The album comprises sic original tunes and three standards. Haymer likes to think of the music as a series of stories brought to life three A-list musicians. “Bringing to life” sounds rather staid, Better stated, this trio explodes these narratives into larger than life form.
Haymer opens and closes the album with two Cole Porter tunes, “So in Love” and “Love for Sale,” the former lending itself to a Latin feel where in the injection of the mambo break in the middle section clearly nods to Sandoval’s influence. The latter is, of course, a fast tempo classic, one that often closes Haymer’s sets and proves to be a showcase not only for Haymer but for Schnelle as well. “Speak Low,” the Kurt Weill standard, is a bolero with the slowest tempo of any tune of the album but possesses a latent energy that Haymer and trio slowly release akin to those slow bubbles emerging from a slight hole in a carbonated can of beverage.
The originals include the title track, a jazz waltz, where he claims the triplet meter reminded him of a “whimsical tornado.” “Proof of Evil” has some recognizable strains to lovers of the ‘60s era Blue Note albums as it’s a mashup of Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof” and Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil.” Haymer was inspired by the podcast Serial when he wrote “Gold Plated Dime” as the podcast features a tragic nonfiction story over multiple episodes, where the protagonist tried to pawn off gold plated dimes as real gold. “Welcoming” is elegantly and delicately rendered, aptly as it’s about the birth of his first daughter and the feeling he experienced at 3:45 AM for her feeding. “Killing Time” is the brief prelude to “Passed Time,” both composed on tour with Sandoval.
As you all know all too well by now, piano trio albums can be quiet and serve as a kind of calming background music. Yet, this live session will more than get your blood moving as Haymer’s trio breathes excitement and displays the lithe movements one would associate with an athlete of Haymer’s caliber. The leader moves subtly and stealthily just as easily as he plays gracefully and fleetly. Every so often you’ll hear a powerful chord at just the right time too. Said another way, as both musicians and athletes would say it – “He brings it!”
- Jim Hynes