It's unfortunate that certain guitarists are so pervasive that others are inevitably assessed in comparison. Play with a certain Midwestern sensibility and warm tone and images of Pat Metheny abound. Add a little distortion and some blue notes and John Scofield is almost sure to be cited. Incorporate some quirky Americana leanings and Bill Frisell will certainly be mentioned. Economy and concision yield unavoidable comparisons to Jim Hall. And from a critical perspective, such comparisons aren't necessarily a bad thingafter all, they give the potential listener some yardsticks with which to assess whether or not they'd enjoy the music in question. But all too often, taken in the wrong context, they do a disservice to an artist by using pat comparisons that, almost by their very nature, remove any sense of individuality.
John Hart is one of those guitarists with whom such references are inevitable. Listen to the strumming guitar work on "Runs in the Family" and echoes ring of bassist Marc Johnson's recording with Frisell and Metheny, The Sound of Summer Running . "Not My Generation," with its lyrical lines and Midwestern shading, is reminiscent of Pat Metheny's earliest recordings, most notably Bright Size Life. There is a certain idiosyncrasy about the rubato "Child at Heart" that suggests a slightly more towards-the-centre Frisell. And the 7/4 funk of "Clone Me" has a taste of Scofield's mid-'90s Blue Note soul work, albeit with smoother edges.
But dig deeper into Hart's new album and you'll find a guitarist who may be easily referenced but manages to create his own approach, one that is more straightforward and unaffected than most of the players mentioned so far. And while the cited references are stylistically broad players who have clearly dabbled with a variety of concepts, Hart seems most content when he is exploring diversity within the confines of a single recording. "Techno Prisoners" may smell of fusion, but it is sandwiched between a gorgeous solo acoustic guitar rendition of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and "Awakening," another acoustic piece that find Hart and his trio exploring an intriguing hybrid of Spain and the blues. In fact, while Hart's electric playing is just fine, he may be at his most distinctive on the acoustic tracks. "Blame It on My Youth" is a richly evocative ballad, with a certain folksiness that is, as Hart himself puts it, "a James Taylor meets Keith Jarrett take on a well-known standard."
Throughout, bassist Bill Moring and drummer Tim Horner play far more than simply a support role. Horner, in particular, has an open-ended approach that is reminiscent, at times, of Norwegian Jon Christensen. And Moring demonstrates the kind of subtle intuition that, like the Pat Metheny Group's Steve Rodby, is so essential yet, in some ways, a bit invisible.
With a sound that incorporates a variety of influences into a focused concept with an emphasis on equality, Indivisible refers to and succeeds at being a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Personnel: John Hart (electric and acoustic guitar), Bill Moring (bass), Tim Horner (drums)