Critic's picks: Billy Hart Quartet, 'One Is the Other,' and Tord Gustavsen Quartet, 'Extended Circle'

Contributing Music WriterMarch 17, 2014 

Critic's pick

Billy Hart Quartet

One is the Other

Tord Gustavsen Quartet

Extended Circle

Three decades and homelands half a world apart separate Billy Hart and Tord Gustavsen. But on two new albums for the ECM label, the two blur the cultural, geographic and even age differences between their visions of modern jazz.

Hart, 73, is a drummer from New Jersey and New York with a dossier of collaborative credits that range from early fusion with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to magnificent post-bop with McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter and the all-star quartet Quest.

One Is the Other is the second ECM album (and his third overall recording) with a young, ultra-tasteful group featuring pianist Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus, bassist Ben Street and the resourceful tenor saxophonist Mark Turner.

Hearing the band conjure the gliding melody of Teule's Redemption from the light rumble of a Hart drum intro and some Coltrane-esque rhythmic assembly is indicative of One Is the Other's unhurried but persuasive music. Later, the way Turner and Iverson delicately complement Hart's brush strokes on a lovingly deconstructed Some Enchanted Evening fits comfortably within the quartet's often impressionistic sound.

The album is perhaps not as atmospheric as Hart's sublime 2012 ECM debut, All Our Reasons. Still, it stands as an evocative American variation on the trusted subtleties, ambience and mystery that have defined much of the label's non-classical output since the '70s.

Where Hart's music reflects the traditions of multiple American jazz generations, Norwegian pianist Gustavsen, 43, embraces history on his sixth ECM album, Extended Circle. The recording relies heavily on spacious, slo-mo soundscapes composed by Gustavsen, but there are bits of group-designed improvs within two variations of Entrance, in which the hushed tenor sax of Tore Brunborg sounds initially like a distant cry from the wilderness and later like a quiet but impassioned conversationalist.

Providing balance to the record's Nordic solemnity is the traditional Norwegian hymn Eg veit i himmerik ei borg (A Castle in Heaven), where Brunberg's entrance over Gustavsen's stately piano shuffle recalls fellow ECM saxophone stylist Jan Garbarek, and the lovely Gustavsen chorale piece Devotion, which is performed as a warm, whispery jazz meditation.

Hart's record has a sound as soulful as it is scholarly; the Gustavsen quartet embraces a sound altogether wondrous and wintry. Such is the global jazz terrain ECM presides over today. This is the music of two cultures that, when listened to side by side, sound downright neighborly.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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