Billy Hart & the WDR Big Band – The Broader Picture – Yellowbird/Enja

A tribute from the heart to Billy Hart.

Billy Hart & the WDR Big Band – The Broader Picture – Yellowbird/Enja ENJA 97452, 79:14 [9/30/16] ****:

(Billy Hart – drums; Christophe Schweizer – arranger, conductor; Johan Hörlen – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto flute, clarinet; Karolina Strassmayer – alto saxophone, flute, piccolo, clarinet; Paul Heller – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Olivier Peters – tenor saxophone, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Jens Neufang – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, contra-alto clarinet; Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer, Ruud Breuls,  & John Marshall – trumpet, Flugelhorn; Ludwig Nuss, Andy Hunter & Raphael Klemm – trombone; Matthis Cederberg – bass trombone, tuba; Frank Chastenier – piano; Paul Shigihara – guitar; John Goldsby – bass)

Drummer Billy Hart probably doesn’t get the dues he deserves. He was an important member of Herbie Hancock’s sextet (1969-73), performed with McCoy Tyner (1973-74) and Stan Getz (1974-77), and was part of the group Quest in the 1980s. Since the early ‘90s he’s spent considerable time teaching younger jazz students. Along the way, he’s also done about a dozen solo projects. One of Hart’s gifted pupils was Christophe Schweizer, who arranged, conducted and put together The Broader Picture, which is nearly an 80-minute homage to Hart, with eight lengthy tunes penned by Hart. Alongside the modernist WDR Big Band is Hart himself with his inimitable drumming style.

Even those familiar with Hart’s material will find ample new nuances to these tracks. For example, the 15-minute adaptation of “Téulé’s Redemption,” (dedicated to Hart’s oldest son) has some elements from the two versions by Quest, but also contains harmonic portions critical to a larger ensemble and solo instruments not found in Quest, including electric guitar. There is also the three-part “Generation’s Suite,” consisting of “Layla-Joy,” “Song for Balkis” and “Renada.” Astute Hart fans will know these were not written or recorded by Hart as a suite, but Schweizer explains in the CD liner notes “that Billy considers them different versions of the same song.”

The melodically tuneful “Layla-Joy” comes from Hart’s 1977 LP Enchance and was composed for a friend’s newborn infant. Schweizer’s eight-minute treatment utilizes components from the 1977 piece plus a few added ones. One highlight is Rob Bruynen’s flugelhorn solo and another is Ludwig Nuss’ trombone spotlight. There’s an interesting blend of melodic beauty and complexity during the 13-minute “Song for Balkis,” particularly Paul Heller’s tenor sax solo break and Jens Neufang’s bass clarinet on the concluding theme. The final segment of the suite, “Renada,” (from Hart’s 1987 album, Rah) also comprises stimulating bits. For instance, the solos from trombonist Andy Hunter and alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer are based on pianist Kenny Kirkland’s comping and soloing. Kirkland was the featured pianist on Rah. The WDR Big Band also does another interpretation of a track from Rah, the relatively straightforward “Naaj,” an up-tempo number which has plenty of solo space for several of the ensemble members.

Another longer Hart composition is “Lullaby for Imke,” which is an accolade to Hart’s youngest daughter. The arrangement has a practically all-new harmony and further contributions from select soloists, all of which provide a superb characterization of Hart’s child. The Broader Picture ends with another tune honoring Hart’s daughter, the cadenced “Imke’s March,” which contains a simple, march-like introduction, then references a New Orleans, second-line framework, and has an overall sense of playfulness and humor which gives this tune a mischievous eminence.

The Broader Picture delivers what it sets out to do. It offers an insightful perspective on Hart’s compositions; it brings Hart’s music into a fresh viewpoint via the large ensemble arrangements; and listeners will enjoy the big band outlook due to meticulous mixing and arranging, as well as an opportunity to notice numerous, smaller details from assorted instruments which can be heard throughout.

TrackList: Téulé’s Redemption; The Generations Suite: Layla-Joy, Song for Balkis, Reneda; Lullaby for Imke; Tolli’s Dance; Naaj; Imke’s March

—Doug Simpson

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