Although this band was once the Ethan Iverson/Mark Turner quartet, the mantle of leadership has passed democratically to the veteran drummer Billy Hart. He is, after all, by some measure the quartet’s senior partner in terms of age and experience. But more than that, it’s his relaxed, expansive drumming style that defines the group sound.
Hart began his career playing for the likes of Otis Redding and Sam and Dave, before turning to jazz with stints in the bands of Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery in the 60s. In 1972 he played on Miles Davis’s On the Corner, and later recorded with two musicians whose grace and power – not to mention their association with John Coltrane – is reflected in the sound of the current quartet, McCoy Tyner and Wayne Shorter.
A member of Herbie Hancock’s sextet from 1969–1973, Hart also played alongside Hancock on Bennie Maupin’s 1974 classic Jewel in the Lotus. More recently, he’s been for years a mainstay of Charles Lloyd’s ECM quartet.
The present quartet was formed in 2003, and has convened for live dates each year since. They recorded their debut album for High Note in 2005. All Our Reasons is their debut on ECM. Saxophonist Mark Turner’s trio Fly have also recorded for the label, debuting with the terrific, understated Sky And Country in 2008.
The album begins with Hart’s probing percussion intro to his own “Song for Balkis”, but he drops away when Iverson, subtly supported by bassist Ben Street, gently essays a melody which they then hand to Turner to develop on saxophone. The track is a model of the group’s democratic sensitivity. The album closes with Hart’s “Imke’s March”, which the composer introduces by whistling a melody that he apparently once used to use to call his daughter in from the playground.
Hart contributes four compositions in total, alongside three by pianist Ethan Iverson and two by tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Turner’s “Nigeria” takes its melodic lead from Sonny Rollins “Airegin”, while, although it’s not credited, to my ears his melodic interpretation of Hart’s “Troli’s Dance” echoes the “Resolution” theme from A Love Supreme.
Iverson’s “Ohnedaruth” certainly takes both John Coltrane’s spiritual name as its title and the celebrated intricacies of “Giant Steps” as its jumping-off point. The pianist’s expressively inventive extrapolations are as lucid as they are interrogative.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard Iverson play better than he does on this album. He sounds to me more at home with this quartet, refining classic small group jazz to embrace improvisation with the sensitivity of chamber music, than when playing the hard-edged urban contemporary jazz of his own band, Bad Plus, or Tim Berne’s Buffalo Collision, for which he’s best known.
The pianist apparently took his inspiration for “Nostalgia for the Impossible” from Paul Bley, and the stylistic debt can be heard as much in Turner’s handling of its melody as in the porcelain clarity of Iverson’s piano figures
Turner pitches his solos perfectly to capture the questing urgency of the post-Coltrane style, without getting caught up in the macho bluster of so many of ‘Trane’s acolytes. He can play with feathery delicacy one moment and sinuous power the next. His composition “Nigeria” is typically mature. It allows space for Billy Hart to take an impressionistic solo before his own fleet and concise solo leads to a full-group exposition with Iverson, his swing a fleeting echo of the jazz age, leading the dance
Elsewhere, Hart’s “Duchess” highlights the quartet’s coolness and elegance, turning introspective on Turner’s “Wasteland”. You can almost hear them thinking their way out of their pensive mood, only to slide toward melancholy with Iverson’s brief but poignant “Old Wood”. “Imke’s March” restores the band’s buoyant mood, as they meticulously pursue their refinement of classic small-group jazz.
Other ECM albums reviewed on DAlston Sound
Anders Jormin: Ad Lucem
Tim Berne: Snakeoil
Tord Gustavsen Quartet: The Well
Andy Sheppard, Michel Benita, Sebastian Rochford: Trio Libero
Keith Jarrett: Rio