Album Review: “Late Last Summer” by Dick Hyman and Judy Hyman

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What does the fiddler from an alt-folk trance band have in common with the pianist who played on NBC-TV's Sing Along With Mitch way back in the 1960s?

Well, for one thing, they share the same last name. For another, they both possess a great sense of musicality as well as technical facility. 

Late Last Summer is a father/daughter collaboration on a collection of waltzes composed by the daughter, Judy Hyman.

Her father, Dick Hyman, is a legendary pianist, arranger, composer and music director who has recorded over 100 albums and was responsible for over a dozen Woody Allen film scores. NPR's Nick Morrison calls him "the living breathing, swinging encyclopedia of jazz piano history from ragtime and stride to bebop and beyond."

Judy also writes for film. In fact, she won an Emmy Award for her score to the documentary The Cultivated Life: Thomas Jefferson and Wine. She has also recorded and toured with Natalie Merchant. 

However, she is probably best known for her work with The Horse Flies, a band that has taken American old-time fiddle music to a unique, post-modern place replete with throbbing grooves, African talking drums and banjos hooked up to wah-wah pedals.

Despite their respectable and lengthy careers as musicians, Late Last Summer (which was recorded late last summer) is the first recording the two have made together. 

Judy wrote of the project, "With his 85th and my 60th birthdays approaching, this seemed like a beautiful way for us to connect and collaborate. Musically, we entered new territory for both of us…not jazz, not fiddle music, not classical. And because a number of pieces were written for family members and friends, the project turned out to be a deeply emotional experience for both of us."

The playing is what you would expect from two seasoned and versatile artists, veering from a folky, spritely approach on tunes like "Julia and Beth" (dedicated to Judy's mother and sister) to a more modern, darker and violinistic take on "Wolf Dreams."

The production is spare and simple, with most of the tunes performed as a duet and occasionally tastefully augmented by accordionist Uri Sharlin.

Having said that, a stellar performance would mean little if the material wasn't first rate, and all of these waltzes, composed by Judy in the past decade, are indeed that. 

This project works on many levels. As a family collaboration, it is heartfelt, emotional and moving. As a dance album, it is more than serviceable–it is perfect. As a listening experience, it is transcendent.

You will most definitely find this release on my "favorites from 2012" list that will be posted here later this month.