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John Hart at The Turning Point Cafe

David A. Orthmann By

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John Hart
The Turning Point Cafe
Jazz at The Turning Point Cafe
Piermont, NY
April 24, 2017

In the midst of a second week of suffering from a particularly virulent strain of the flu, John Richmond should be taking it easy. Moving in a sluggish manner, avoiding close contact with musicians and patrons alike, offering arm bumps instead of handshakes, and acting uncharacteristically subdued, he's nonetheless determined to host and play tenor saxophone throughout a Monday night session at The Turning Point Café. A one-man band in terms of organizing a series in its tenth year, Richmond knows that keeping jazz alive in Rockland County isn't a job for the weak-willed, and that the show won't go on without him.

Part of the enjoyment of attending jazz sessions at The Turning Point Cafe is the endearingly casual atmosphere that frames spirited, thought-provoking sounds. At one juncture Richmond offered a brief monologue on how certain phrases and short messages are best conveyed in one language only, and went on to mention that he speaks Italian and once made a living translating and interpreting. Following "How Deep Is The Ocean" a menu was passed around the bandstand, and hostess/bartender Kim approached the musicians to discuss the selections and take orders.

The night's performance marked the return of guitarist John Hart, formerly a fixture at New York City area jazz venues, and presently a lecturer at the Frost School of Music of the University of Miami. An abbreviated, four selection set prior to a jam session offered ample evidence that Hart's time in academia has not affected his prowess on the instrument. (For those who aren't familiar with Hart, I suggest checking out Exit From Brooklyn, Zoho Music, 2016, which captures the guitarist in excellent form.) A band consisting of bassist Earl Sauls, drummer Colby Inzer, and Richmond—whose vigorous solos showed no signs of malady—proved to be an able match for the guitarist.

As an improviser Hart juggles a lot of information, making it impossible to anticipate what direction he'll go in, or when he'll change course. Even while paying close attention, in an instant you often find yourself thrust into an unexpected place. For all of Hart's activity, empty spaces are as important as the notes. Conversely, the continuity built into his solos makes it easy to imagine a blueprint somewhere in his head that's above and beyond song forms and chord changes. During Milt Jackson's "Bags Groove," the set's opener, it was possible to isolate some of Hart's tendencies. A number of fast, slippery runs didn't end so much as released and left to their own devices. Transient blues phrases entered and exited in no apparent pattern. There was a short pause to let a measured, repetitive sequence sink in. Additional rapid-fire lines simply evaporated. Another recognizable phrase ended in an odd, somewhat dissonant chord.

By the time Hart initiated "Body and Soul," the set's final selection, it was certain that his long, convoluted, rubato introduction would eventually find its way to the song. About mid-way he started to reveal the tune's harmony, and eventually the melody emerged before he casually implied a tempo and handed things off to Richmond. Looking around the room, I was struck by the sight of several guitarists, cased instruments by their sides, hanging on to Hart's every note and itching to sit in.
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