[JPL] Bebop in the Present Tense, Drummer in the Driver’s Seat

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 1 14:52:34 EDT 2007

May 31, 2007
Music Review
Bebop in the Present Tense, Drummer in the Driver’s
Several years ago a group billed as the Mark
Turner-Ethan Iverson Quartet made an auspicious debut
at the Village Vanguard, with Mr. Turner on tenor
saxophone, Mr. Iverson on piano, Ben Street on bass
and Billy Hart on drums. This week the same ensemble
is back at the Vanguard with a different handle, the
Billy Hart Quartet, and a clearer sense of itself,
judging by a potent and well-balanced first set on
Tuesday night. 

Bebop is the group’s lingua franca, though it should
be understood that the word refers here to an
aesthetic practice rather than a historical style. Mr.
Hart, who is 66, has covered the full jazz spectrum
during his accomplished career; he isn’t a classicist
or a throwback. His younger band mates demonstrate a
grasp of modern traditions but also a strong aversion
to nostalgia. The whole enterprise functions in the
present tense.

And Mr. Hart is the leader for reasons other than
seniority or courtesy. He has a loose but
authoritative approach to propulsion, along with an
almost scary conviction in the power of a single
emphatic gesture: the thwack of a mallet on a floor
tom, the washy impact of a full-tilt cymbal crash. He
also contributed the most memorable tunes, melodically
speaking, in Tuesday’s set. Even more than on the
group’s sterling recent album, “Quartet” (High Note),
Mr. Hart sounded altogether like the man in charge.

The other members of the group exerted an equal pull.
Mr. Turner was the primary soloist, and his
distinctive style — heavy on arpeggios and scalar
elaborations — was a prominent feature of the set. He
ended “Moment’s Notice,” the John Coltrane classic,
with a cadenza that gradually spiraled outward,
practically ghostwriting an alternate composition.
Elsewhere in the set, notably on Mr. Iverson’s stark
blues “Mellow B,” Mr. Turner played a stream of 16th
notes in his altissimo range, only occasionally
tossing in a triplet run or landing on a long tone in
his braying low register. 

Mr. Iverson adopted a drier and less effusive
approach. He sounded best on “Charvez,” a ballad by
Mr. Hart with a recurring two-chord flourish; the
song’s inherent drama suited Mr. Iverson’s declaratory
instincts, and its modal progression prompted him to
explore an insistent polytonality. On the more boppish
material, he showed signs of Bud Powell’s influence,
but with a chromatic tendency informed by the postwar

Mr. Street had his standout solo on “Irah,” a
near-ballad by Mr. Hart. He started simply, playing
quarter notes in a pedal drone. Then he developed a
sequence of ideas with patience and restraint. He
stayed within reach of the melody, often brushing
against it but also implying some modest harmonic

There is tension in the ensemble’s rhythmic
relationship to swing, which Mr. Hart embraces more
wholeheartedly than his colleagues. But it doesn’t
pose a real problem — Mr. Hart could swing hard enough
to pull the entire band, if he needed to — and in some
ways the friction distinguishes this ensemble from
countless others covering similar post-bop terrain. 

The Billy Hart Quartet continues through Sunday at the
Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, at 11th
Street, West Village; (212) 255-4037,


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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