The quartet heard here was formed in 2003, and originally billed as the Ethan Iverson/Mark Turner Quartet. When Billy Hart asked if it could be his band for a gig in his hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, the other members unanimously voted to give it him permanently. As the Billy Hart Quartet, the four musicians have continued to play a number of dates each year, often at New York’s Village Vanguard. In 2005 the group recorded a well-received debut album for hard-bop label High Note. Since then, as Ethan Iverson notes, the music has become more free and spacious, qualities that fit well with ECM’s priorities. “All Our Reasons” was recorded in June 2011 at New York’s Avatar Studios, with Manfred Eicher producing.
Billy Hart, of course, is no stranger to ECM, first recording for the label in 1974, with Bennie Maupin on the classic “Jewel In The Lotus”. For ten years a member of the Charles Lloyd Quartet, he can be heard on Lloyd’s “The Call”, “All My Relations”, “Canto” and “Lift Every Voice” – influential albums all. Tenorist Mark Turner guested with Enrico Rava on “New York Days” in 2008, also recording with the Fly trio in that year on “Sky And Country” (a second Fly disc is in preparation). Pianist Iverson and bassist Ben Street make their first ECM appearances with “All Our Reasons”.
Billy Hart, Ethan Iverson and Mark Turner are all featured as composers on “All Our Reasons”. Hart’s “Song for Balkis” begins the programme with an evocative drum solo, with Billy in freer mode, loosely swinging but also with a roiling sense of unpredictability which engages his fellow players – each of whom plays differently, and often rather beautifully - in this context. Mark Turner says of playing with Hart: “I feel I have more trust in myself and more trust in the beat than I would in other situations, and it has helped me grow a lot as a musician.”
“Ohnedaruth” was the spiritual name adopted by John Coltrane. Ethan Iverson’s homage re-works his “Giant Steps”: The opening piano salvo has left and right hands in utter de-synchrony (Iverson’s description), like a player-piano gone awry. When the tenor trio takes over, the original changes are barely perceivable through a web of delayed resolutions and unexpected voice-leading, but the emotional feeling remains close to Trane.
“Toli’s Dance” is a modern blues composition by Billy. After a fanfare for piano trio, Hart initiates an undulating funk beat. Turner devours the complex harmonic atmosphere in a soaring solo, and the piano responds with simple chimes, morning bells at the end of the party.
“Nostalgia for the Impossible” has several uncanny moments of free harmony between Iverson and Street. Iverson grew up on records Paul Bley made for ECM and perhaps this performance is a kind of tribute.
The gently loping Hart tune “Duchess” was previously recorded on his “Oshumare” album (Gramavision). Street works closely with Hart here to shape each new rhythmic feel into a distinctive statement while Iverson and Turner take melodic fragments and spin them about.
Mark Turner’s “Nigeria” takes off from “Airegin”, Sonny Rollins’s much-covered composition (which was inspired originally by Nigerian dancers, and premiered on Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove”). Turner’s capacity for high-speed improvising on chord changes at top speed is facilitated by the quick reflexes of Ben Street: a master-class in subtle listening.
“Wasteland” is a through-composed piece by Turner learned in the studio especially for this recording. The only improvised sections are the introductory saxophone cadenza and the drum interludes. “Old Wood”, meanwhile, is an improvisation originally intended to introduce another piece. The title comes from Iverson’s pleasure in an exceptional Steinway.
Finally, Hart’s “Imke’s March” begins and ends with a whistled melody Billy used to call his daughter in from the playground. When the band gets going Hart stays active on the snare, continuing the march theme. Iverson’s casual solo incorporates trademark diatonicism and motivic development.
Mark Turner, who found his own style after exhaustive study of the musical methodologies of Coltrane and Marsh, has become one of the most influential saxophonists of his generation. After recording leader dates (for Warner Brothers and Criss-Cross), Turner co-founded the trio Fly with Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard in 2004 and has continued to tour widely with the group.
Ethan Iverson is well-known as a member of “avant-garde populist” group The Bad Plus, praised by New York magazine for its “alchemist’s blend of earnestness and wit”. He has also played with Lee Konitz, Dewey Redman, Tim Berne, Paul Motian and others. Iverson writes about music and its contexts on his blog Do The Math.
Ben Street studied bass with Dave Holland and Miroslav Vitous. He has performed and toured with Danilo Perez, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Roswell Rudd, Sam Rivers, Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, David Sanchez, James Moody, Frank Foster, Clark Terry, Junior Cook, and others.
Billy Hart’s rich history includes stints with Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and many others. A vast discography incorporates sessions with Miles Davis for “On The Corner” and “Big Fun”.
The Quartet has concerts on both sides of the Atlantic in 2012, beginning with a run of dates at New York’s Birdland club in April. A European tour is planned for November.