With a blues-soaked sensibility and strong rhythmic drive, guitarist Richie Hart's Blues in the Alley is aptly named, given his propensity for blues form and feel. But that doesn't mean that the record is anything approaching monotonous, as Hart and his trio companions, bassist Rick Petrone and percussionist Joe Corsello, explore everything from the swing blues of the title track to the vivacious jump of "Sandu." There may be a single colour that pervades the proceedings, but Hart and his trio, along with two guests, keyboardist Pete Levin and saxophonist Gerry Niewood, explore the many shades of that colour, providing a rich and varied palette of colour and musical texture.
Even when the tunes aren't strict blues form, as with Lalo Schifrin's ballad "The Fox" and the joyful Latin reading of John Coltrane's "Black Pearls," Hart's harmonic choices are decidedly blue in nature, coming by way of Wes Montgomery, who is clearly an influence on Hart's playingjust listen to his octave solo on "Black Pearls" and his thumbed lines on "On a High Note," which is loosely based on Montgomery's "Road Song."
The most ambitious track on the record is unquestionably the opener, Monk's "Well You Needn't," which, with Corsello's hip hop-inflected rhythm, is the most overtly contemporary sounding track on the disc. The balance of Blues in the Alley is more timeless, from the medium tempo reading of "Georgia on My Mind" to an intriguing blend of samba and swing on "Autumn Leaves" that brings a whole new complexion to a well-heeled standard.
Hart's tone, while warm, has the occasional sharp edge, bringing a percussive element to his playing that differentiates him from some of his contemporaries, including Greg Skaff , Vic Juris and Dave Stryker . And he is equally comfortable developing chordal passages as he is more linear excursions, again drawing the inevitable link to Wes Montgomery.
Blues in the Alley is Hart's first recording as a leader in over ten years, and while he is obviously busy in his capacity as Associate Professor of Jazz Guitar at Berklee in Boston, it's a shame that he doesn't record more often. Without breaking down any barriers, Hart is an eloquent player who steadfastly carries on the tradition begun by Montgomery, honouring a timeless tradition while, as in the case of "Well You Needn't," letting the listener know that he isn't completely stuck in a time warp. Hopefully there will be a shorter gap between this and Hart's next release, so we can see where he intends to take a style that, while anchored in tradition, is not averse to incorporating some contemporary elements.
Personnel: Richie Hart (guitar), Rick Petrone (bass), Joe Corsello (drums, percussion)
Special guests: Pete Levin (keyboards), Gerry Niewood (saxophone)