It is his sixth album and he told one interviewer, “All the tracks are original but none of them are new, although you could say they are new versions that somehow have taken on a beautiful life of their own.” A beautiful life of their own is right.
Shalom Aberle mixes the live recording and it is superb. The warm atmosphere of the great Atlanta venue is splendidly portrayed in this live recording.
Beachside Isle opens the set with a sweet guitar intro that kicks into a tight little bit between Alex McGuiness on sax and Pat Strawser on keyboards. Hart’s guitar resumes control as Dwayne Wallace’s bass and Steven Walker’s drums lay down a cool rhythm line. Emrah Kotan is on percussion and he and Hart add their own drive to McGuiness’ return lead.
The band plays like a unit and the musical camaraderie and intuitiveness between them is electrifying. There are moments that makes one think of Weather Report and we haven’t even departed the first track yet. Hang on.
Jim Gilligan follows up with an ambient opening that gives way to an acoustic nylon string guitar and sax pairing as the full band deploys into a gentler expression. McGuiness adds soulful punctuations to Hart’s guitar intonations.
Bill Hart’s use of various guitars gives so many different flavors to the pieces. Someone called Bill Hart “smooth Jazz” and they should be beaten about the head and shoulders with Kenny G albums. Hart may be smooth but “smooth Jazz” as a sub-genre, he is not.
Deep Skies cranks out the Stratocaster in opening lines of bone-crushing funk. Yeah, I was all in from here on out. Wallace lays down pulse-pounding bass lines and Walker rolls in the thunder on the drums. There are interludes of straight-ahead Jazz only to return to that monster funk. Dwayne Wallace becomes a hero on this track while Hart tears open the skies with his furious Stratocaster work. Can’t get enough and neither could the audience.
Sara’s Song returns to the sweeter side with the acoustic introduction. The band starts to swing by midway and McGuiness introduces the soprano sax. Strawser’s keyboards are expressive and cool. Don’t miss what Walker is doing on drums. The tone and texture of his drumming is extraordinary on this lovely piece.
That’s Purdy is from Hart’s Touch of Blue album. It is a cool Blues bit and smoking guitar licks and tight rhythms. I like the note-for-note playing between Hart and McGuiness. Truly cool Blues.
Canadese Africano is from 2008’s Subject to Change. This is one fine example of the beautiful new life that these pieces enjoy in the live setting of the Red Clay Theatre. It is precise and tight without ever losing its lyricism. Hart has arranged a wonderful reworking of this number with the right people at the right positions. And Hart himself is on fire. It’s not fast and furious but his tone and technique are beautiful.
Got to love Emrah Kotan’s percussion outro.
And that percussion continues into the intro of This is Why. Hart’s acoustic guitar delicately takes over for several minutes. Sax and keyboards will get their own turns before the return of the guitar to close out the piece. A fine composition that is meditative and reflective.
Spazio Aperto follows in staccato pops and punches before trading with more melodic lines. The picking style creates an openness here as percussion and bass fill the very space created by Hart. The Blues-Jazz feel of the piece are highlighted by the rhythm section as Strawser’s Zawinulesque keyboards never detract from the bluesier elements. McGuiness brings back the soprano sax as the tightly wound band swirls around him and he around them like binary stars. A great composition, to be sure.
The album closes with Elected from the album Watch the Sky, the same album that gave us Beachside Isle and Sara’s Song. It has Hart at his most energetic and the whole band clearly choosing to leave it all on the field. Every member of the band gets to contribute their finest, fulfilling the entertainment maxim to “Always leave them wanting more.” This is Bill Hart Band in its tightest Fusion. What a great way to conclude an album.
It’s difficult to determine just where Bill Hart is most gifted—guitarist or composer or band leader. This can be said with assurance, Bill Hart knows how to pick the right guys to complement his musicianship in playing his own brilliant compositions.
Greg Pasenko and Bluejazz Productions have brought us a winner.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl