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Billy Hart & The WDR Big Band: The Broader Picture

Dan Bilawsky By

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A great teacher's influence can be unusually powerful and completely unbound, fixed to specific moments and lessons in a student's mind while also reverberating through time and space. You simply never know where it may lead, what doors it may unlock, or what wonders and worlds it may help to create. That's the subtext in the story behind this engrossing and brilliant affair.

Back in 1992, Christophe Schweizer was a promising student at the Mannes College of Music in New York. Drumming icon and educator extraordinaire Billy Hart took Schweizer under his wing, as he would do for numerous others in the same boat both before and since, and helped the trombonist-composer-arranger find his footing, so to speak. Now, nearly a quarter-century later, Schweizer revels in the opportunity to honor and work with the artist who helped instill confidence in him all those many years ago. Eight Hart pieces are given expansive big band treatments here, highlighting the composer's way with the pen and his easily identifiable, impossible-to-duplicate drumming. If anybody but Hart had been in the driver's seat (a.k.a. on the drum throne) this would've been a very different recording.

In developing each arrangement for the ever-impressive WDR Big Band, Schweizer didn't simply go his own way. He used Hart's history and the original recordings from three of his albums—Enchance (Horizon A & M, 1977), Rah (Gramavision, 1987), and Oceans Of Time (Arabesque, 1997)—as guides. The end results are both respectful and original in nature.

The Broader Picture begins with "Teule's Redemption," a number steeped in mysticism as it takes its initial steps. John Goldsby's bass is at the center of the pooling sound(s) at song's beginning, but moods shift and a sense of calm is replaced by intensity. This behemoth of a performance cedes well-used space to tenor saxophonist Paul Heller, guitarist Paul Shigihara, and Hart. It's the longest track on the album, clocking in at just over fifteen minutes in length, and it doesn't pull any punches.

"The Generations Suite"—a three-part work that includes "Layla-Joy," "Song For Balkis," and "Reneda"—follows. Hart views all three pieces as different takes on the same work, but each manages to speak on its own terms here. "Layla-Joy," featuring Rob Bruynen on flugelhorn and Ludwig Nuss on trombone, has a clear attachment to Brazilian music; "Song For Balkis" is at once eerie, peaceful, and awe-inspiring, as uncertainty and serenity alternately lurk in the underbrush while passion pores forth from above; and "Reneda," which puts Goldsby, trombonist Andy Hunter, and saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer in the thick of the action, ends the suite on a note of ecstasy.

The second half of the album begins as airy sounds and dreamy textures take hold through a harmonically-tweaked rendition of "Lullaby For Imke." Frank Chastenier's piano, Andy Haderer's flugelhorn, and Johan Horlen's alto flute all help to mirror the mood of the arrangement on this floating, John Coltrane-indebted beauty. Hart then steps forward, playing off of the weighty and ominous introductory statements on "Tolli's Dance" during several drum breaks. The song proper, once set on its grooving course, proves to be a thrill ride with punching brass, hard-hitting drums, and relentless enthusiasm.

The final tracks on the album—a swinging "Naaj" that features a spirited Hart attack and an "Imke's March" that opens on the drummer's solo-turned-cadence before introducing the simply cycling melody and moving toward more treacherous arenas—provide two more reasons to appreciate the way that Hart and Schweizer balance melodic thought, humor, and strength in this substantial work. The teacher and the pupil have become colleagues, and the results couldn't sound any better.

Track Listing: Teule's Redemption; The Generations Suite-Layla-Joy, Song For Balkis, Reneda; Lullaby For Imke; Tolli's Dance; Naaj; Imke's March.

Personnel: Billy Hart: drums; Christophe Schweizer: arrangements, conducting; Johan Horlen: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto flute, clarinet; Karolina Strassmayer: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo, clarinet; Paul Heller: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Olivier Peters: tenor saxophone, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Jens Neufang: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, contra-alto clarinet; Wim Both: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rob Bruynen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Haderer: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ruud Breuls: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Marshall: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ludwig Nuss: trombone; ANdy Hunter: trombone; Raphael Klemm: trombone; Matthis Cederberg: bass trombone, tuba; Frank Chastenier: piano; Paul Shigihara: guitar; John Goldsby: bass.

Title: The Broader Picture | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: ENJA - Yellowbird

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