Review: Drummer Billy Hart's 'One Is The Other'

Hart has recorded hundreds of albums, backing, among many others, pianist Herbie Hancock. But he sometimes records under his own name too, especially now that he has a well-seasoned quartet.

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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. Drummer Billy Hart has recorded hundreds of records, backing, among many others, guitarist Wes Montgomery, pianists Shirley Horn and Herbie Hancock, saxophonists Stan Getz and Dave Liebman, and the co-op band The Cookers. Billy Hart sometimes records under his own name, too, especially now that he has a well-seasoned quartet. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews their latest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YARD")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Billy Hart's tune "Yard," paraphrasing Charlie "Yardbird" Parker's line, "Cheryl." In a way, to paraphrase is typical Hart. He knows this history, but puts his on the wobble on it. His band first assembled in 2003, as the Ethan Iverson-Mark Turner Quartet. But the drummer loved playing in it so much, his younger comrades had him the keys: Now we'll be your band. You can hear why Hart took to them. It's very tight yet fluid interplay. Billy Hart broke through in the 1960s when drummers really became part of the musical conversation and not the background.

This is saxophonist Mark Turner's "Lennie Groove," updating Lennie Tristano's long, snaky melodies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITEHEAD: Drummer Billy Hart's Quartet, from their new CD "One is the Other." Their pianist is Ethan Iverson, whose other new album, with the co-op trio The Bad Plus, reworks Stravinsky. Iverson is one of jazz's true do-gooders, writing analytical essays for his excellent blog "Do the Math." There, he often draws attention to great drummers, as he does on the bandstand. He and this quartet's fine bassist Ben Street also play in trio with veteran drummer Tootie Heath.

Iverson's tune "Maraschino" for the Hart Quartet owes something to Thelonious Monk's halting ballads, and to the late drummer Paul Motian's tunes, built on catchy little phrases.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARASCHINO")

WHITEHEAD: The lone standard on Billy Hart's new album is Richard Rogers' "Some Enchanted Evening," a showcase for Mark Turner's rhapsodic tenor saxophone. Turner's sweeping solo is so grand, you could miss how gracefully the others circle him without colliding.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME ENCHANTED EVENING")

WHITEHEAD: Billy Hart's "One is the Other" is on ECM, whose productions are typically heavy on the reverb. That deep resonance is quite effective on much of the music the label records, but it doesn't do this band any favors. Nowadays, drummers usually record in an isolation booth, as Hart did here, and the sound needs a little softening. But too much echo on the drums obscures the clarity of his playing and undermines the illusion the players recorded in one room.

To my ears, the spacey mix gives the impression the quartet is less tight than it is. But you can still hear that this is a great band.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and Wondering Sound and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "One is the Other," the new album by the Billy Hart Quartet on the ECM label. Coming up, we remember British actor Bob Hoskins.

This is FRESH AIR.

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