Billy Hart: All Our Reasons (ECM 2248)

All Our Reasons

Billy Hart
All Our Reasons

Mark Turner tenor saxophone
Ben Street double bass
Ethan Iverson piano
Billy Hart drums
Recorded June 2011 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Fernando Lodeiro
Produced by Manfred Eicher

It’s no coincidence that Billy Hart’s surname rhymes with “heart,” because this album is filled with it. From the simpatico yet open-ended musicianship to the flowing compositions, his quartet knows exactly where it’s at…and where it isn’t. In the latter vein, the bandleader-drummer emotes as much on the inhale as on the exhale, selectively deploying bursts of illustration. Pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street make their first ECM appearances, while tenorist Mark Turner and Hart himself represent two very different intersections with the label: respectively, with the Fly Trio and the Charles Lloyd Quartet.

It’s Lloyd, in fact, whose influence is most apparent in “Ohnedaruth,” the first of three tracks penned by Iverson. Despite being based on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” (Ohnedaruth was Coltrane’s adopted spiritual name, a Sanskrit word meaning “compassion”), the balance of viewpoints between Hart and Turner is, both here and across the album’s full spectrum, so strong that I could easily imagine a duo flight in the vein of Lloyd and Billy Higgins’s Which Way Is East. Hart is staggered (and staggering), deciphering Iverson’s chromatic twists like a locksmith jiggling his way into Street’s fixed grooves. Turner’s studied approach spreads virtuosities as the icing of a delicately layered cake. Iverson is as bold as a composer as he is understated as a pianist. Even when given the spotlight, as in his Paul Bley-inspired “Nostalgia For The Impossible,” he opts for an inward quality that allows Hart’s brushes to sing. Iverson’s alchemy is naked and slow, and all the more impactful for it. His solo interlude, “Old Wood,” cuts the corner pieces of the larger puzzle.

Turner offers up two tunes of his own. “Nigeria” takes inspiration from Sonny Rollins’s “Airegin.” Its wing-beat opening fades from theme to solo, Hart taking a downright spiritual path of expression. As a drummer, Hart can be at once free and meticulous, but as a musician he combines molecule after molecule into the audible compound of this track’s flowering architecture, all while Turner and Iverson open every window to let in a flood of sunlight. Street, meanwhile, responds to gradations of the passing day. “Wasteland” opens with an acrobatic introduction from its composer and floats along its own ripples through the other instruments toward the opposite shore.

Hart shares his gifts on four originals. On the whole, they reap distinction from the incantational properties of his playing. One by one, they till the soil with a uniquely shaped implement every time. His most artisan spade breaks ground in “Song For Balkis,” which inspires his musicians in turn. Turner’s tone is bracing and wrought in spirit magic, working busily to transmit the messages his fingers receive into mortal recognition. Iverson tears up patches of earth and replaces them with sound. His pianism, restless and responsive, breaks every mold that clutches it. Hart, for his part, carves directly into the bedrock something beautiful. A rustic feel pervades the funkier blues that is “Tolli’s Dance,” which from modest foundations builds a tower to the sun—only this one isn’t made of brick, rivet, and lime, but of slick rhythm and rhyme. Hart’s “Duchess” and “Imke’s March” are by turns ecstatic and revelatory. The latter’s bee-wing delicacy wears such personal clothing that one can envision its colors with eyes closed and ears open.

All Our Reasons has plenty of reasons to discover, appreciate, and enjoy. But most important among them is the realization that mastery exists only when egos get left at the door. This is music for the soul, because only the soul knows how to detach itself from harmful desires that would get in the way of the experience.

(To hear samples of All Our Reasons, click here.)

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