critic’s picks 329: billy hart quartet, ‘one is the other’ and tord gustavsen quartet, ‘extended circle’

billy hartThree 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, geographical and even age differences between their visions of modern jazz.

Hart, 73, is a NewJersey/NewYork drummer 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. The ways Turner and Iverson delicately compliment Hart’s brush strokes on a lovingly deconstructed Some Enchanted Evening also fit comfortably within the quartet’ s often impressionistic sound.

The album is perhaps not as atmospheric in texture as Hart’s sublime 2012 ECM debut, All Our Reasons. Still, it stands of 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.

tord gustavsenWhere Hart’s music reflects the traditions of multiple American jazz generations, Norwegian pianist Gustavsen, 43, embraces history on his sixth ECM album, Extended Circle. Though the recording relies heavily on spacious, slo-mo soundscapes composed by Gustavsen, there are also bits of group-designed improvs within two variations of Entrance, where the hushed tenor sax of Tore Brunborg sounds initially like a distant cry from the wilderness before serving as a subtle but impassioned conversationalist.

Providing balance to the record’s Nordic solemnity are 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 served as a warm, whispery jazz meditation.

Hart’s record possesses a sound as soulful as it is scholarly while 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.

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