COUNTING BEATS

Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Mark Turner

GILAD HEKSELMAN, THIS JUST IN

At his CD release gig at the Jazz Standard in NYC last month, one of the things that guitarist Gilad Hekselman revealed to me about the making of his fourth album This Just In was that “all of the pieces were recorded with the band together in the studio, without even the separation of booths,” which is a significant distinction since it creates an immediacy and creative bond between musicians – something that comes through loud and clear on this recording. Central to the album’s success is the communication that Hekselman has with bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore, two of the most versatile sidemen in New York as well as tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, who plays on three tracks.

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BILLY HART, ALL OUR REASONS

Drummer Billy Hart has been playing and performing with top tier names since the 60’s, but based on the music he’s recorded with pianist Ethan Iverson (The Bad Plus), saxophonist Mark Turner (FLY) and bassist Ben Street (Kurt Rosenwinkel), he sounds like he’s never been happier. That’s what you hear on 2009’s “Quartet” (HighNote), an album characterized by this band’s high functioning level of interplay. With its refreshing reads on tunes by Coltrane and Parker, and an edgy mix of originals, “Quartet” sounds like nothing less than a master class on improvisational possibilities.
Photo by me at band’s gig on April 3, 2012. Sorry, Ben Street!

“All Our Reasons,” their debut on the ECM label, finds the band delving deeper into a sound shaped by nuance of tone and tempo. The album doesn’t produce the same frisson as hearing the band live, but suggests just the same that there’s more going on than just music. It’s a brotherhood, linked in part by musical telepathy but mostly an open appreciation and respect for Billy Hart.

The music on “Reasons” is bold and nearly free form. Hart’s “Song For Balkis” intrigues as a sweetly textured ballad with Turner playing pensively around Hart’s gentle but unpredictable beats until the drummer escalates the tempo with dramatic flourishes. Iverson reworks John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” as “Ohnedaruth” (Coltrane’s adopted spiritual name), merely whispering its familiar melody as he pursues harmonic variations within. Turner’s “Nigeria” is a high-speed workout, the band flushed with facility and fast reflexes. And “Duchess” squeezes evocative solos out of melodic motifs for a nicely twisted sonic free-for-all. Throughout, Street’s tuneful bass wraps delicious notes around the contours of band mate’s solos, Turner confidently moves between contemplation and bursts of expressiveness and Hart works his kit like a percussive orchestra, and in the end they all come together, playing like a quartet of musical brothers. (9 tracks; 59:34 minutes)

GILAD HEKSELMAN, HEARTS WIDE OPEN

The prologue and epilogue of “Hearts Wide Open” (Chant du Monde Records) may be dusted with carefree whistling but in between the guitarist Gilad Hekselman arrays eight seriously great originals that gracefully expand the horizons of jazz guitar with melodious rock and folk influences. His phrasing has a satisfying fullness while his solos have a way of connecting deeply. Songs like “Hazelnut Eyes” and “The Bucket Kicker” match the guitarist with bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore and the musical effect is that of a larger band where Hekselman’s silky arrangements and orderly runs are skillfully underscored by nimble bass notes and percussive rhythms. Other tracks add saxophonist Mark Turner to the mix, most effectively on “One More Song,” a whirling folk-inspired narrative with a melodic hook that the saxophonist turns over and over on the chorus. Drummer Gilmore invokes the usual awe with his profound timekeeping. His fills and dexterous sense of swing is starkly evident on “Brooze,” a slow blues with a lazy gait and a hot center that’s set afire by Hekselman’s electrifying solo. Somewhat unusual for a jazz record, the guitarist makes room for a power ballad called “Understanding” that heaves under a sturdy backbeat and emotive melody that signifies the guitarist’s cool confidence. An Israeli native and New Yorker since 2004, Hekselman successfully plumbs the zeitgeist of his peers, striking a perfect balance on “Hearts Wide Open” between accessibility and the improvised go-anywhere storytelling that is progressive jazz. (10 tracks; 60:14 minutes)

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