The Billy Hart Quartet was originally known as the Ethan Iverson/Mark Turner Quartet when they formed in 2003. When Hart asked if it could be “his” band for a hometown gig in Montclair, NJ, the other members unanimously voted to give it to him permanently. After listening to the Quartet’s latest ECM release, All Our Reasons, it is clear that this group could have been named for any one of the members, as they all contribute mightily to the final product.
Just to make things clear, the members of the Quartet are Ben Street
(double-bass), Turner (tenor saxophone), Iverson (piano), and Hart
(drums). All four members have been playing together for a long time,
and it certainly shows in their work. I have always felt that the
quartet setting is the quintessential format for a jazz band, and the
Billy Hart Quartet bolsters this opinion immensely here.
Fittingly enough, All Our Reasons begins with a drum solo,
on the opening ballad “Song For Balkis.” As often happens throughout the
album, Turner’s sax then comes in to lead the piece in an evocative
direction. Next is the intriguingly titled “Ohnedaruth,” which as it
turns out, was John Coltrane’s adopted spiritual name. Despite the nod
to ‘Trane, I actually found Iverson’s piano to be the real star of this
track, although Turner’s sax lines are pretty great as well.
As far as a “star” of this set goes, I would be tempted to nominate
the piano of Iverson. Maybe it’s just me, but I find his playing on
“Duchess” to be incredibly moving. The song is actually a Billy Hart
composition, and was originally released on his Oshumare album
back in 1985 on the Gramavision label. Both versions are outstanding,
and listening to them back-to-back provides an interesting contrast
between Hart’s earlier outfit, and the current quartet.
At 1:42, “Old Wood” is an improvisational solo piece by Iverson which
works as a nice introduction to the final “Imke’s March.” There is a
very personal element to the track added by Hart, as the song begins and
ends with a whistled melody that he used to call his daughter in from
the playground. There is an interesting, almost fusion-ish quality to
the track, and it closes the album out on a definite high note.
Between them, the four members of the Billy Hart Quartet have played
with the likes of Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, McCoy Tyner, Lee Konitz,
Paul Motian, and many others. All Our Reasons is testament to their collective talents, and is one of the better jazz albums I have heard in some time.