CD Review: Billy Hart Quartet- One Is The Other

Billy Hart Quartet- One Is The Other
(ECM 375 9733. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

The breadth of Billy Hart’s career is extraordinary. For over 50 years, his drumming has graced hundreds of recordings and he has worked – either as a jobbing sidemen or integral band member – with the likes of Otis Redding, Walter Bishop Jr and Charles Lloyd. Oh, and Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz and Miles Davis.

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One Is The Other is Hart’s third CD (the second on ECM) with a quartet that started life over a decade ago under the joint leadership of pianist Ethan Iverson and saxophonist Mark Turner, with Ben Street on bass. Hart has a reputation for stability, consistency and reliability, so it is surprising that many of his outings as a leader – including this one – are patchy.

Turner’s Lennie Groove has a complex melody, changes of pace and mood, and an unaccompanied piano opening that may be Tristano-esque but sounds like an advanced exercise. The saxophonist is also the creator of the very different Sonnet for Stevie, which is attractive, lightly swinging and bluesy. As an instrumentalist, Turner can do anything. Everything he plays – from the lowest to the very highest notes – is controlled, and his work on the only standard, Some Enchanted Evening, is perfectly poised.

Away from The Bad Plus, Iverson appears determined to avoid histrionics, and his work here is measured and thoughtful. His tune Maraschino has a fascinating melody, and Big Trees focuses on the drums and is punctuated by ensemble interludes.

Hart’s trademark of miraculously slowing the pace without interrupting the flow is rarely heard, although his skittering brush work and technique on hi-hat and bass drum are particularly distinctive. He makes the first sound on five of the eight selections, yet is as selfless as they come and never swamps his colleagues with clutter or bluster. Hart is also a talented composer, and three of his tunes form the core of the set. Teule’s Redemption, written for one of his sons, is typical. It offers anticipation, the development is constructed with skill, and there’s drama on the journey towards a conclusion. The through-composed Amethyst is rather obscure until the theme emerges at the end. Yard includes references to several of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker’s lines – most obviously “Cheryl” – and its jerky riff dissolves into a skewed blues that includes a brief bass solo. Mainly in the background, Street chooses his notes wisely, has great time, and makes a profound contribution.

One is the Other doesn’t come close to the majesty and luminosity of Hart’s first record as a leader, Enchance (A&M Horizon CD 0818) – from 1977 – but it’s a fine document of his current direction, and grows on you with repeated listening.

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