Since we last heard from the young alto player Antonio Hart, it was with the well-received album "Here I Stand" he cut for the former Impulse label. That record was a declaration of Hart's commitment to embracing an organic unity of music and life, and as such was prefaced by a quote from Alvin Ailey that evidently was to serve as Hart's mantra from there on out. Ailey had said "Each Artist must create his own unity according to his own experience and belief..." Hart seized on this quote for the calling of his muse by turning out a record that showed both his versatility and his belief in the value of any music that personally moves him. There was Latin, soul jazz, modal, and most of all evocative originals speaking to greater concerns that moved Hart, e.g. "The Community", "Riots...the voice of the unheard" and "True Friends."
It seems that this time around, Mr. Hart is no less convinced of the need to make a statement. Both in his choice of material and in the inspirations for his originals, Antonio Hart has put forth a program of music that raises the ante on his desire to fulfill a sense of organic unity between music and life.
This release on the ENJA label, "Ama Tu Sonrisa" is in the same vein of eclecticism and world music recombinations as the former "Here I Stand", but here the tone is more of the contemplative and mellowed artist who is beginning to feel more comfortable in his own shoes- less eager to prove, more eager to simply show.
The opening cut on this album is a dedication to the fallen Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, called "For Amadou." This piece acts as a dramatic opener to set the tone for the record, and, that said- this is probably the most intense cut on the record. It is in Hart's words a synthetic blend of African and African-American music, and it features hand percussion in the foreground as Hart blows a singing melody over a recurring bass groove. Kevin Hayes provides Latin-style comping on the keys and plays with maturity, as he does throughout the album; he is a good foil for Hart here, who himself turns out soloing that has both an urgency and a tinge of wistfulness appropriate to the subject .
The title cut "Ama Tu Sonrisa" is probably most reflective of Hart's mindset toward music at this time in life. It is a mellow cut featuring Hart on flute, and it sounds not unlike the sunny kind of groove piece that Hubert Laws cut his teeth on back in the 70s. Moreover, it's placid singing melody lingers in the mind longer than anything here- so justifiably, it's the title track. Steve Nelson takes a fine solo and the basswork of Richie Goods (on electric, as he is through most of the record) is purely strong.
The Hart edition of "Have You Met Miss Jones" is another special cut on this record. It is crafted around a swirling bass line and reworks the tune by altering the rhythmic feeling of the melody in and out. Coming "in" is Hart and co riding on a sassy groove, and going "out" is a sustained, more reflective feel with the bass striking a constant pulse. It is highly effective, and like other material on this album, the contrast within the arrangement sits nicely.
Rounding out Ama Tu Sonrisa is a tune that pits Middle Eastern music vs. Latin music in an uncommon segway of cultural music "feels"- another unique contrast piece, and a few ballads/more contemplative pieces: "Wayne's Lament" (actually, a suite form) "Forward Motion" and "Somewhere." "Peace, Love and Light" is a catchy latin piece that will invigorate those who were captivated by Hart's Latin facility as shown on "Ven Devorame Otra Ves", featuring Claudia Acuna on vocals. Hart is definitely claiming some ground with these latin excursions of his. Also, we should not forget to mention Antonio's dedication to a childhood saxophone idol; the namesake tune "Grover Washington Jr." This is a nice, thoughtful, actually- sweet groove cut that sounds like well, what smooth jazz should sound like in an ideal world. Hart plays soprano on this track and does right by Grover in the beautiful mellow way of his playing.
With the diverse program of tributes and world music cuts and socially-inspired cuts here, Antonio Hart certainly may not be accused of having a lack of consciousness about the world around him. And indeed, when one listens, one perceives a reflective soul that makes thoughtful, soulful musical commentary from track to track.
Antonio Hart is a former "Young Lion" who has expressed a desire to move away from the retro outlook often associated with that generation of musicians. With "Here I Stand" Hart proved himself capable of asserting his own voice, and with this record- Ama Tu Sonrisa, Hart shows that he is quite serious (in case you forgot!) about realizing his greater ideal of an organic unity between music and of life. Antonio Hart- a soulful, worldly cat on a mission...
Personnel: Antonio Hart- Alto and Soprano saxes, flute; Yosvany Terry- Tenor Sax; Steve Nelson- Vibes; Kevin Hayes- Piano; Richie Goods- Bass; Camille Gainer, Nasheet Waits- Drums; Renato Thomas, Rolando Morales, Khalil Kwame Bell- Percussion, Claudia Acuna- vocals.