Recent Listening: Billy Hart, Zoot Sims

Ear Trumpet

We continue in our doomed effort to keep up with recent (more or less) releases.

Billy Hart, All Our Reasons (ECM)

For months I have been listening repeatedly to this CD, one of last year’s best. Somehow, I didn’t get around to writing about it until now.

Hart All Our ReasonsHart, a drummer of flexibility, wide range and exquisite sensitivity, is billed as the leader of a quartet formed in 2003 by the tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and the pianist Ethan Iverson. The bassist is Ben Street. The four have evolved onto a plane of like-mindedness that a band can reach only through time, familiarity, hard work and agreement on goals. Their goals—or reasons— revolve around approaches to time, harmony and interaction that germinated in the late 1950s Miles Davis sextet when Bill Evans was its pianist. The concepts took firm hold in the early ‘60s in the Evans trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, a group that brought lasting change to the nature of the jazz rhythm section.

Although Hart’s drumming has antecedents in Motian’s work and in that of the bop pioneer Max Roach, he has become so distinctive that considerations of his initial infuences are beside the point. With the delicacy of his brushes on cymbals and snare drum he melds rhythmic power and restraint. There’s a prime example that duality in “Nigeria.” Following Street’s muscular introduction, Hart offers a distillation of his style in contrapuntal accompaniment of the complex melody line, the tonal and melodic qualities of his solo and the openness of his time. As Iverson concludes a fleet, witty solo, he discloses the tune’s genealogy in Sonny Rollins’s “Airegin.” Turner, a consistently satisfying soloist, suggests Rollins less than his own early, and continuing, model, Warne Marsh. Elsewhere in the album, in Turner’s “Wasteland,” he suggests of Marsh’s sound, but not strict adherence to his conception. It is a slow piece of mournful beauty.

Iverson’s “Ohnedaruth,” a name conferred on John Coltrane for his mystical and spirtual qualities, is identified in the CD booklet and in Iverson’s piano introduction as a descendant of “Giant Steps.” The piece employs harmonic progressions that have come to be known as Coltrane changes. For the most part it is a conversation among Turner, Street and Hart’s brushes. Iverson ends it with an impressionist fillip that includes a hint of the “Giant Steps” melody. Hart’s reflects his strength as a thoroughly grounded composer in four of the album’s nine piece, including the mysterious opening piece, “Song For Balkis,” and “Imke’s March,” whose passages of ethereal unison whistling bracket drumming and a melody that suggest, perhaps, a parade in a central European village at a time when the world was less complicated.

Zoot Sims, Compatability (Jump)

Whoever named this unexpected and welcome visitor from the 1950s didn’t know how to spell “compatibility.” Worse, Delmark, which has acquired the Jump label’s catalog, isn’t making the CD easy to find. The search Zoot Sims Compatabilityis worth it because the disc contains all of the takes from an obscure 1955 session in L.A. that found the great tenor saxophonist in an octet of superb studio and jazz musicians. It includes only four tunes, but there are as many as four takes of each. Sims, baritone saxophonist Bob Gordon, trombonist Dick Nash and guitarist Tony Rizzi shine throughout. Zoot glistens with originality and fresh ideas on each of his solos, notably so in “The Way You Look Tonight,” and Nash is magnificent in “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Click on the album’s title above for a trip to Delmark’s website (scroll down) to order the CD or an iTunes download. Bob Gordon devotees will be delighted to find this music by a brilliant player whose life ended at 27 in an auto accident not long after these sessions.

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  1. David says

    The first time I saw Billy play, I remember watching him during the piano solos and seeing every nuance of Albert Dailey’s playing instantly reflected in his face. Had I been watching it on video, I’d have been convinced that Billy was the piano player.

  2. D. Berson says

    Unfortunately, Zoot has been as consistently ill-served in his releases as he was consistently sublime in his playing. Thanks for this lead to another work.

    The reader above is incorrect in his “correctly spelled title”, though. It is “Nash-Ville” as a nod to the date’s trombone player, Dick Nash.

  3. James Cimarusti says

    I’ve owned the Zoot Sims session on Jump records for a long time and was glad to see it finally released on CD with even more music! It’s been on my radar for an upcoming purchase since I read about it a few months ago (can’t remember where though). One of my favorite albums! :)

  4. Buddy Dearent says

    Hi Doug,
    I’ve seen the video of Stan Getz with John Coltrane and they both played great. Since then I’ve often wondered what the pairing of Warne Marsh with Coltrane might have produced. Anyone have any thoughts on this?