For a guy who didn't play jazz in the early part of his career -- and didn't claim he could -- trumpet virtuoso Al Hirt has come a long way. Unencumbered and unprotected by the sextet format he fronted for decades, Hirt stood on the bandstand of Charlie's last night with a rhythm trio behind him and executed with polish, feeling and sometimes gentle, sometimes driving swing a program of older and not so older standards, Latin numbers and a Dixieland war horse or two.
Rhythm trio, by the way, does not come close to describing Dallas pianist Fred Crane, New Orleans basist Bill Huntington and New York drummer Joey Baron. Top players all, they provided tasteful and firm support for the leader and each shone in solo.
"High Society" neatly summarized Hirt's mastery of instrument as well as his attack. It utilized clarion bell tones, shot up flares, and concluded with an a cappella coda of buzzes, whimpers and a final column of air that hardly tickled the bore of the trumpet.
Hirt's choice of other materials included "Wolverine Blues," "Someday Sweetheart" and "New Orleans." The trio alone was showcased on a bouncy "St. Thomas," the Sonny Rollins calypso classic. Hirt switched to flugelhorn for several tunes, but returned to his main horn for the set-ending, toe-tapping "Oh Didn't He Ramble?"
The quartet stays through Sunday.