Billy Hart: All Our Reasons (2012)
In a career spanning work with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and trumpeter Miles Davis to pianists Tommy Flanagan and Marian McPartland, drummer Billy Hart has pretty much seen it all, from the most centrist mainstream to the outer reaches of free playing and beyond. But as he approaches 72 later in 2012, there's one thing Hart hasn't doneuntil now. All Our Reasons represents the first time the veteran drummer has reunited the same band as on a previous recording, in this case, his well-received 2006 HighNote debut, the simply titled Quartet . Moving to a different label doesn't always mean change, but with Hart moving to ECM, and with label head Manfred Eicher in the producer's chair, it's a good opportunity to compare and contrast.
As would be expected from a label that's built its reputation on sonic transparency, All Our Reasons reveals its layers more clearly. Pianist Ethan Iverson and Mark Turner may dominate as soloists on the saxophonist's melodic and close-to-the-center "Nigeria," but Hart's cymbal work remains fundamental to the track's forward motion, despite being so delicate as to be felt more than heard at times. Bassist Ben Street, too, is key to the quartet's sound: robust enough to fill out the bottom, contributing to a collective sound that's got plenty of weight when necessary (Hart's modal "Tolli's Dance"), yet elsewhere feels rarefied and translucent (Turner's slowly unfolding "Wasteland").
Eicher is never satisfied with repetition, so it's no surprise that All Our Reasons uses a more open-ended approachexploring freer terrain, albeit still within a compositional framework. Hart's opening "Song for Balkis" is, at nearly 13 minutes, the album's longest track. It is another gradually revealing piece, where a cued rubato theme finds Turner and Iverson passing the melody between them like a tag team. This leads to a saxophone solo that's the epitome of timbral control and focused construction, with Iverson, Street and Hart ebbing and flowing, and ascending and cascading in a pure simpatico of collaborative, egalitarian push-and-pull.
If Iverson's solo on "Song for Balkis" hints at his blocker, more jagged work with The Bad Plus, then his brief solo piece, "Old Wood," reveals an altogether gentler player, capable of spare beauty and nuanced touch, even as the piece moves from lyrical positivism to more delicate angularity. As with Quartet, All Our Reasons includes a song written for Hart's daughter Imke, but "Imke's March" is more unusual, beginning and ending with an a capella whistled theme, that bookends its weightier center, driven by Hart's ability to play liberally with time oftentimes seeming more to suggest it, while never losing sight of it.
Iverson's "Ohnedaruth," based on John Coltrane's classic "Giant Steps," goes places the legendary saxophonist wouldn't, at least at the time of its writing in the late 1950s. The freer tack that the pianist and his mates take is more cerebral and less intrinsically visceral. It's an approach that defines much of All Our Reasons, an album of liberated playing, driven by intellect but never at the expense of understated evocation and irrefutable resonance.
Track Listing: Song for Balkis; Ohendaruth; Tolli's Dance; Nostalgia for the Impossible; Duchess; Nigeria; Wasteland; Old Wood; Imke's March.
Personnel: Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Ethan Iverson: piano; Ben Street: bass; Billy Hart: drums.