Hays Street Hart
Hays Street Hart sallies forth in their second outing as the piano trio of Kevin Hays, bassist Ben Street, and NEA Jazz Master drummer Billy Hart with Bridges following up their 2021 All Things Are. The latter effort was livestreamed, perhaps not even intended to be an album. Yet, the results demanded it and the acclaim it garnered led them to this second effort, which is fully intentional by any measure. The trio mixes covers from Wayne Shorter, Lennon & McCartney, Bill Frisell, and Milton Nascimento with originals, three from Hays and one from Hart, delivering a master class in group interplay in the process. One of the more interesting aspects of the album, not mentioned in the debut, is that Hays, although he doesn’t sing on the album, is also a vocalist and the melodies often take shape around that kind of mindset. This feeds a special connection, especially with Hart who has backed such iconic vocalists as Shirley Horn and as a surprise to many, soul artists Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. Street commented that often he feels like they are a quartet rather than a trio due to the Hays’ lyrical bent.
Those qualities reveal themselves in Hays’ opening original “Butterfly,” which is fully instrumental but does contain lyrics that Hays has written. The lilting melody is indeed songlike and sublimely gorgeous. Hays also penned “Song for Peace,” delicately rendered with emphasis on single resonating notes, with Hart on brushes and Street with his judicious plucking play with utmost restraint. Space is the fourth collaborator. “Row Row Row” is his third, built on a twelve-tone row and skipping along nicely, but not in the vein of the childhood song that may come to mind. In fact, this one is rife with far more improvisation than his other two. Hart’s “Irah” first appeared on his quartet’s self-titled 2006 debut, dedicated to the composer’s mother. Street suggested this one that’s remarkably compatible with the Hays’ compositions but possesses a dramatic quality rather than the lyrical focus of the pianist’s tunes.
Shorter’s “Capricorn,” is one of his oft-covered tunes, having appeared on his leader album, 1969 Blue Note Super Nova and on Miles Davis’s Water Babies. When any jazz ensemble does covers, especially with Shorter’s recent passing, a Shorter tune usually is part of the repertoire. Here the trio locks into that mysterious, ever reaching component that makes the icon’s compositions so riveting and indelible.
What could be more singalong than The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends”? It’s another nod to Hays’ penchant for pop and rock songs. Yet, the trio dances their away around and through this with the only directly recognizable aspect revealed in the chorus. Regarding penchants, Street suggested Frisell’s “Throughout,” realizing that the guitarist’s love of folk and Americana would jibe well with the similarly inclined Hays. Again, the fit with Hays’ originals is uncanny. Given the lyrical bent of the record, it would only make sense that Hays would select a tune from the Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento, the closing title track.
Seldom will you hear a more cohesive, highly lyrical album from a piano trio. Most are built around improvisation and while that plays a critically important role, the melodicism, restrained support from Street and Hart, and the trio’s chemistry shine through even brighter. The beauty is indeed in the details.
- Jim Hynes
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