Exactly Right is vibrant, living jazz.

Savant CD 2206

Louis Hayes (drums); Abraham Burto (tenor saxophone); Steve Nelson (vibraphone); David Hazeltine (piano); Dezron Douglas (bass)

Jazz is a living, breathing art form. To step into a jazz recording is to place a footstep along a musical continuum where past and present stand on equal footing. Listening to Louis Hayes’ new album, Exactly Right!, is to hear a very big footstep on that continuum.

The band on the album — some of whom have been playing with Hayes for decades — play with a telepathy and instinct for each other. As pianist Hayes says, “They had become a real band and he never had to do anything more than give them the tempo and then he could play as he wanted, and they were all as one.”

The band speaks to their place in the continuum through the opening titular song, Exactly Right. The header, melody, solos, and the song’s incessant swing are all, Exactly Right. Despite being written today, you can hear the strains of Hayes’ storied career with Coltrane, Tyler, Silver, and Adderly in these notes. However, this is not a tribute or nostalgia album as Hayes and the rest of his quintet play with fire and abandon, giving themselves to the music they create in the now.

Sergio Mendes’ So Many Stars is slow and mysterious; as the saxophone converses with Nelson’s singing vibraphone and piano, Haye’s drum bush strokes keep time like rain in the night. Haye’s drumming evokes the rhythm of the Sergio Mendes original while the band takes the song in a completely different direction.

Carmine’s Bridge continues the jazz party from where Exactly Right left off, and once again, the whole band is allowed to show off their chops, with Hayes accenting every phrase with exactly the right drive and panache. Each musician’s notes dance with each other to make the song’s overall impact more significant than each band member’s contributions. Its main melody is an invitation to dive into the music.

Nefertiti, Wayne Shorter’s contribution to Miles Davis’ album of the same name, receives an inward-looking interpretation, with Burto’s saxophone leading the song and Hayes keeping perfect and time. Nelson’s vibraphone gives the song a gentle undercurrent, occasionally answering the saxophone’s call across Shorter’s grand melody.

Hayes’s version of Horace Silver’s Mellow D sounds like it was composed for this band and is as fresh as today, though he initially recorded with Silver in 1959 on the album Finger Poppin’. The band cooks on this song as they do all over this album, but Hayes’s drums are the star as they propel and decorate the piece with command and style. It’s also a testament to Haye’s talent that his drum parts for both song versions are different. Both work to make the song what it is, and you can hear the same drummer in the other drum parts. The original sounds like it’s rushing to get here, while this new version takes more time.

Scarborough Fair turns the well-known traditional folk song into jazz led by bouncing piano and a driving rhythm that doesn’t remove the gentler cadence of the folk song.

Ugetsu, which former Hayes’ Cedar Walton recorded with the Jazz Messengers in 1963, dives in and makes the case that jazz written sixty years ago is the jazz of today and ends with a disciplined yet playful drum solo that speaks to the spirit and personality of Hayes talent.

Hayes was named one of the 2023 National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters, and his deserved title shows on every track. The band on this album sound as if they’ve been playing with Hayes over the decades as they intuitively move through their changes together, each playing to their talent while giving the others in the quartet to do the same. And Louis Hayes keeps them on time, just exactly right. Exactly Right is vibrant, living jazz.

Reviewed by Ben Miller