While Elvin Jones and Tony Williams might be more noted names, Billy Hart is still a drummer for the ages, with over 500 appearances on record and a list of credits that includes Shirley Horn and Wes Montgomery, as well as recent recordings by Mimi Fox (Perpetually Hip) and the Mary Lou Williams Collective (Zodiac Suite: Revisited). Hart's exhausting schedule of gigs and teaching responsibilities have prevented him from recording more, but Quartet, his eighth release as a leader, is well worth the wait.
On Quartet, the statesman gives a free and invaluable drum clinic reflecting his luminous, exact and vibrant skills. His group consists of young jazz musicians who are creating distinct names in the business: pianist Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, plus bassist Ben Street and saxophonist Mark Turner, both of whom have worked with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and other notables. Together they bring a modern perspective to the recording, which is as much an exhibit of a tightly knit band as a showcase of Hart's continuing abilities.
If you're expecting the group to play it completely straight, then think again. The nine selections of mostly original music are filled with little oddities that keep things surprising, like Hart's fine drum solo against a slightly surreal blues vamp on "Mellow B." John Coltrane's "Moment Notice also starts off on familiar ground, but opens up with a growling tenor solo by Turner that leads into a straight but slightly off-center reworking. Even Charlie Parker's "Confirmation is quite elastic, with a superb closing free solo by Iverson.
Hart's four originals, dedicated to family members, are clever works of composition: "Charvez has Latin avant-garde strokes and the tranquil impressions of "Irah highlight Street's tenacious bass, plus a nice drum and piano coda. The crowning jewel is the Hart ballad "Lullaby for Imke, which has a memorable melody, a brilliantly emotive sax solo by Turner, dreamy piano by Iverson, and colorful drum touches by Hart. Iverson's enigmatic "Neon closes the set with wonderful tribal drumming and strong statements by each musician.
Whether the younger players are inspired by Hart or the other way around, the results are magical on Quartet, one of the year's more rewarding releases.
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