By Edward Kliszus
Hays Street Hart at Smoke Jazz Club presented tunes from their Bridges Record Release tonight. The piano, bass, and drums trio opened with How High the Moon, a standard from the American Songbook. While this seemed a conservative start, as they worked the tune, colors, and ideas were fresh and creative. Each performer soloed and traded improvisational passages as they developed musical ideas. This was the beginning of an eclectic, satisfying musical experience.
Some examples from the Bridges album are included, but listeners should pick it up to support these essential artists while gaining the complete experience.
The song Butterfly followed. Written by Kevin Hays, it’s a poetic, scenic song from the new Bridges album. This departure from the medium of jazz standards provided new insights into the trio’s musical and stylistic versatility. Hays switched from classic jazz as he improvised using tonal, bluesy, and what can be described as Americana sounds.
Cool, Sophisticated, and Virtuosic
Wondering where the trio would go next, I was pleased as they jumped gently into Wayne Shorter’s Capricorn. Here, we experienced deep, informed musical vocabulary of jazz artistry. It was cool, sophisticated, and virtuosic. The trio explored the complex harmonies and intones of contemporary jazz languages. They honored Shorter’s tenets of spontaneity, growth, experimentation, and personal expression. Each artist contributed their unique voice to create a cohesive whole.
The Beatles and Joe Cocker
A Little Help From Your Friends came to the forefront. This song, written by John Lennon and McCartney, was famously performed by Joe Cocker. The trio ably translated the song into a relevant jazz trio work. We heard a few more tunes from the Bridges album beautifully performed. They included the eponymous title song written by Milton Nascimento and Song for Peace written by Kevin Hays. Extraordinary.
Spontaneous Musical Ideas
Kevin Hays displayed artistry and extraordinary chops, performing flawlessly in the set. He set tempos and channeled the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic foundations. His improvisation was diverse and virtuosic but not overpowering. It was just enough to ensure spontaneous musical ideas. When playing lightly, Hays sustained tones for an atmospheric sound. He blended notes and chordal structures to craft seamless, flowing intones. When his fingers moved fast, there were solid fireworks.
Deep Resonant Pulses
Ben Street held up his end on the bass. In addition to soloing, he provided deep, resonant pulses that drove the rhythmic groove and anchored the group’s sound. He used various techniques to create a range of sounds and textures. He also contributed to improvisational components and interactions. With his technique and creativity, Street fulfilled his crucial role in creating and enhancing a cohesive and dynamic sound.
Billy Hart’s employment of brushes provided a light and airy sound to the cymbals and the drums. He provided depth and texture to the music with complex, sometimes crisp rhythmic patterns. Hart used striking techniques to bring out the unique character of each percussion instrument. He enhanced the sonic landscape, sometimes adding an ethereal quality. His subtle and overt timbral offerings created cohesive, layered sounds that complemented and enhanced the performances of the pianist and bassist.
The Jazz Trio
As I sat in a sold-out Smoke Jazz where patrons sat in silence, the sounds I heard reminded me of the incredible importance of the jazz trio (aka rhythm section). From the first few bars, I imagined the work of Bill Evans, bassist Scott LaFaro, and drummer Paul Motian—or perhaps Oscar Peterson with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen. Here are the references.
Harmonically Complex Ideas
Evans developed modal jazz and reharmonization techniques. He used chords and structures that pushed jazz piano beyond conventional practices to portray his introspective and harmonically complex ideas. Peterson brought a level of technical proficiency to the jazz piano not seen before. He could infuse different genres, such as classical music, blues, and gospel music.
Free Flowing Approach
Peterson’s collaboration with Miles Davis created the album Kind of Blue (1959), which stands as a significant shift in the jazz genre towards a more reflective, free-flowing approach. Blue in Green from that album illustrates these ideas well.
Lyrical, Diverse, and Harmonically Sophisticated
Composer and pianist Kevin Hays led with trust, sensitivity, and communication. Each musician listened intently to the other and responded to each other’s musical choices in real-time. Hays’s exquisite piano playing was imaginative, lyrical, diverse, harmonically sophisticated, and customized for each genre. Ben Street followed Hays’s lead with bass playing that locked in effortlessly with the piano and added to its melodic lines and rhythmic pulse. Billy Hart on drums provides a responsive and dynamic foundation, interacting with the piano and bass to create a cohesive sound—improvisation over the form and trading fours and eights added to the concept of freeform and communication.
At times, the trio created an impressionistic soundscape that was simultaneously emotive, harmonically complex, and powerful, reflecting their collective vision as musicians. They seamlessly shifted from standards from the American Songbook, cool jazz, Americana, and pop.
Hays Street Hart at Smoke Jazz Club
℗ 2023 Smoke Sessions Records Released on: 2023-10-20
Producer: Paul Stache
Producer: Damon Smith
Music Publisher: Nivek Yash Music (BMI)
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club
New York, NY 10025
Phone: (212) 864-6662
Info and tickets go to https://smokejazz.com/
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Conrad Herwig and the Latin Side All Stars at Django, Mark Arthur Miller, Michael Davis Hip-Bone Big Band, Marshall Gilkes Presents: Psychic Journey, and Bill Charlap at Birdland.
Here’s the title song Bridges from the Album.