Kevin Hays, Ben Street & Billy Hart
All Things Are
Smoke Sessions Records
A wonderful intergenerational trio here releases a wonderful record that is cut from a couple of live-streamed (audience-free) gigs made late last year. Drumming legend Billy Hart had just turned 80.
All three are wonderful players in their own right but the sympathy that Hart and bassist Ben Street offer to the tunes, in what is basically a showcase for Kevin Hays’ piano-based compositions, and the empathy that all three musicians show for one another is subtly mesmerising.
Hays sounds rather Mehladau-esque on the sublime Elegia, the trio is all guns-blazing on the album’s shortest piece, the three-minute Unscrappulous (a riff on Charlie Parker’s Scrapple From The Apple) and Hart’s brush-work is so deft, such a portrait in understatement on the only non-original piece here, the lilting standard For Heaven’s Sake (which has been performed by Wes Montgomery, Billie Holiday, Ben Webster and Bill Evans, and that’s just for starters). Hays has recorded the song already (back in 2005, as the title track to an album) and here he is backed so beautifully by Hart and Street. Ben Street’s bass playing is never wrong, no notes out of place, never too many, always just the right amount and – as with Hart’s brushes here, Street only ever plays what is needed. But it’s possible to listen to this song once for the gorgeous piano work and then again for just the rhythm section; a third time to hear it all as one muscle.
Hays is the soloist throughout but Street gets to offer some lovely, melodic playing in the final third of Elegia and Hart solos swiftly through All Things Are – trading against the piano lines, a master of space-creation and clever beat-placement.
And don’t panic – when you see Sweet Caroline in the tracklisting it is not the Neil Diamond song, in fact it’s another Hays original, this one funky and riding on a brittle backbeat that Hart supplies – a sinewy streak of bassline providing the main backbone for Hays’ piano to skip lightly across.
Everything here is wonderful. This is just brilliant, brilliant playing from three terrific musicians. Here they work as one, always in support of the music. The tunes are strong. The performances uplift them. To where they belong.