At a time when jazz fans are becoming increasingly despondent about any imminent return of live music, veteran pianist (and longtime Arturo Sandoval sideman) Max Haymer’s muscular, rhythmically eclectic/adventurous and soul-empowering Whirlwind: Live at Sam First is a brilliant reminder of what we have to look forward to somewhere down the road.
Recorded at the popular LAX-adjacent club just before the pandemic hit with his sensitive yet swinging power trio of David Robaire (bass) and Dan Schnelle (drums), the collection – Haymer’s first since 2008’s Pickpocket Witness – equally celebrates the spirit of intense, speedy improvisation (as on the booming opening romp through Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” and the buoyant, bustling original “Gold Plated Dime”) and the genre’s sweeter, more sensitive romantic subtleties (via the hushed intimacy of “Welcoming” and the brief flowing, hypnotic piano solo “Killing Time”).
The expansive, ever evolving 11-minute “Passed Time” brilliantly combines both vibes, as the piece builds from soft spoken eloquence towards a wildly emphatic, hard-grooving exultation. Haymer wrote both “time” pieces while on tour with Sandoval – and includes a wink towards the trumpeter with a lively mambo moment in the midst of another breakneck Cole Porter re-imagining “Love for Sale.”
In addition to a mile-long resume that includes work with Jane Monheit, Mike Stern, Cindy Blackman Santana and Sara Gazarek, Haymer’s history includes years as a prominent athlete who attended UC Irvine on a soccer scholarship and played Division I soccer for four years. Considering the balance of intense athleticism and strategically placed emotional notes, it’s not surprising that he sees parallels between sports and jazz. We could use some of that stamina ourselves as we wait out this seemingly interminable time away from grand live dates like this one.