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March 2013: Billy Hart Quartet

RJ Johnson By

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Billy Hart Quartet

Philadelphia Art Alliance

Philadelphia, PA

March 20, 2013

The music of the Billy Hart Quartet demonstrates a thorough amalgamation of intriguingly disparate musical elements which retains both the mastery of a group of accomplished veterans and the perpetually transformative nature of a leader dedicated to a lifetime of artistic pursuits. The ensemble, consisting of drummer Hart, bassist Ben Street, pianist Ethan Iverson and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, has been Hart's working band since 2003.

The selections on this night came from the band's most recent release, All Our Reasons (ECM, 2012). Within the intimate setting of the Philadelphia Art Alliance, where the audience was seated just feet from the band in a rich acoustic environment, the group captured the delicate yet ever-seeking qualities which listeners and critics alike found remarkably intriguing about the recording.

The band's book consists of compositions from Hart, Turner and Iverson. The convoluted swing of Iverson's "South Hampton" opened the set with a dark and complex melody, and featured solos from each member of the group. Iverson began his solo with simplistic single-note phrases before delving into rhythmically complex harmonic figures. The interaction amongst the musicians was particularly interesting, Hart catching onto every rhythmic suggestion offered by Iverson, using the pianist's ideas to develop his own accompaniment. At the same time, Street kept the slow swing feel extremely steady throughout Iverson's solo, while Hart kept time with simple quarter notes on his ride cymbal. The simultaneous interplay between Hart and both Iverson and Street showcased the drummer's abilities to the fullest extent, almost sounding as if two different drummers were playing at once.

The tune also allowed Street to stretch out and display his skills as an improviser. Although Street is often busy propelling the group forward with his bouncing quarter-note feel or solidifying the band's free improvisations with his steady tone, his improvisational contributions were never less than completely compelling, as the bassist took an extended solo with Hart again keeping time using only a quiet quarter-note pulse on his ride cymbal while, this time, also playing two and four on the high hat. With no harmonic background, Street took his playing in any direction he pleased, excelling within a stark environment which other bassists might have found daunting.

Turner was in full form throughout the evening. The band seemed to favor free improvisation fused with compelling slow swing or straight-eighth tunes throughout the set, and both of these styles suited Turner's use of extended thematic development during his solos. During the free improvisations—whether performed simultaneously as a group or with each musician developing his own solo—Turner never allowed his own playing to become aggressive or dynamically intense. Instead, his free improvisations carried as much thought and care as his solos over steady form. The saxophonist's solos never seemed to contain any wasted notes; even his quick flourishes or extended altissimo leaps seemed well- conceived and were always flawlessly executed. His solo on an unnamed (or as Hart explained, unpronounceable) slow swing tune during the middle of the set drew praise from Hart himself at the close of the piece.

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