The heavy-duty foursome responsible for the ruminative atmosphere and rigorous improvisation on All Our Reasons is actually a collective; but in deference to its worldly, sublimely flexible drummer, the band bears the name of Billy Hart, who, at 71, sounds utterly ageless. His discography practically doubles as a who’s who of modern jazz, including dates with everyone from Stan Getz to Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock to Wes Montgomery to Lee Konitz to Pharoah Sanders. The second album from the quartet of Hart, pianist Ethan Iverson (of the Bad Plus), tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, and bassist Ben Street fits neatly within the label’s meticulous, ambient ethos, but beneath a measured sense of calm and a beautifully pitched color palette, the music remains both thoughtful and soulful. Hart’s opener “Song for Balkis” sets the tone: a moody melody line, an elastic sense of time and fearless exploration of harmony that combine to make the performance seem to levitate.
Iverson’s “Ohnedaruth,” a spiritual name used by John Coltrane, is a bold reinvention of Trane’s classic chord change challenge “Giant Steps,” from which the pianist slyly quotes both following his time-colliding intro and as the performance concludes. Turner also remakes a jazz standard, turning around the title and melody of the Sonny Rollins gem “Airegin” as “Nigeria,” the country that initially inspired the composition. After a simmering, well-proportioned solo from Iverson, Turner unleashes the full tonal richness of his attack with an improvisation that hijacks bebop velocity while retaining a thoroughly contemporary sensibility. On “Nostalgia for the Impossible” Iverson embraces wide open harmony with Street, and it heightens his exquisite use of space throughout the album — in contrast to what he normally does with the Bad Plus — that’s always been a quality of another famous ECM pianist, Paul Bley (with whom Hart has also worked).
Throughout the collection Hart masterfully drives the proceedings, whether it’s on the forceful abstracted funk of his tune “Toli’s Dance” or the solemn feel of the closing “Imke’s March,” which opens and closes with a pretty whistled melody the drummer once used to summon his daughter from the playground. This band has operated in fits and starts over the last decade — these are some busy cats — but here’s hoping they work together more. This album is a knockout and the personnel bring such a dynamic combination of experience to the project that there’s no good reason why the quartet can’t be one of the best groups in jazz today.