Heartfelt Songs From the Unsung

A radio promo man's latest small label brings out the best in two overlooked veterans

Billy Hart Quartet, a stunner that might set your brain and pulse racing more than you want in this summer heat, features a band that started off as Iverson's before he, bassist Ben Street, and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner unanimously voted Hart leader in recognition of his seniority and the sizzle and spread of his beat. Though the ear is drawn to Turner as the only horn—it helps that he's in top form, simultaneously cerebral and hard-charging—Hart earns his billing by following the drummer's creed and dedicating himself to making everyone else sound good. One way to do this is by synching accelerations and suspensions of tempo to a solo's modulations, and Hart's quick response time on his own "Lorca" is a bracing example. His pieces tend to elicit the CD's most stirring and dramatic performances, but two tunes in everybody's fakebook are given novel, diametrically opposed twists: Turner opens Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" with an alarming fly swatter of an overblown low note, the theme appearing in recognizable form only at the end, whereas on Charlie Parker's "Confirmation," the theme is stated thrice with only slight variation, which takes up over two minutes and tricks you into believing that's all there's going to be the rest of the way. Then the fun begins, with Turner and then Iverson orbiting the highest intervals of Parker's changes for five minutes and no recapitulation of the theme at the end—except in your head.

Gently emotive, and ready for wider praise: Houston Person
photo: Gene Martin/High Note Records
Gently emotive, and ready for wider praise: Houston Person

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Houston Person and Bill Charlap
You Taught My Heart to Sing
HighNote

Billy Hart Quartet
HighNote

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Roy Haynes was famous for being underrated so long he's now a little overrated. Hart, who's been around since the early '70s, when he was one of the drummers on Miles Davis's On the Corner, is merely underrated. Congrats to his younger bandmates if Billy Hart Quartet helps make him famous for it.

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