Pianist Kevin Hays, Bassist Ben Street, and Drummer Billy Hart Reunite for a Second, Scintillating Trio Date
Album Release ~ October 20, 2023 via Smoke Sessions Records
This press release was provided to Vivascene by DL Media
Hays Street Hart, the trio of pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Ben Street, and legendary drummer Billy Hart, recorded their acclaimed 2021 debut, All Things Are, under less than optimal conditions. The album began its life as a performance in honor of Hart’s 80th birthday in December 2020, live streamed from an empty Smoke Jazz Club in the final weeks of that grueling pandemic year. Despite those adversities, the music they created that night was spectacular enough to convince all involved that it should be released.
Two years later, the trio has reconvened, this time fully cognizant that they were going to record an album at Sear Sound Studios in NYC. Due out October 20, 2023, via Smoke Sessions Records, the captivating Bridges brilliantly spotlights the unique chemistry and shared spirit of exploration that emerged fully formed on that initial impromptu session. The title succinctly hints at some of the reasons why Hays, Street, and Hart work so well together: this is a trio that bridges generations, certainly, as well as a wealth of diverse experience and inspiration. But it also sums up a mutual desire to bring people together through music.
“We have so many concurrent and urgent issues now on this planet,” Hays explains, “We need to start making allies where we’ve only seen adversaries. Whether that’s on a global, interpersonal, or intrapsychic level, we need to set out to repair any number of misunderstandings and seemingly intractable polarizations if we are to survive and thrive here as a community.”
Not that there was any antagonism to overcome within the trio itself. More than anything, Hays Street Hart is a mutual admiration society of the highest order. The esteem in which the pianist and bassist hold Billy Hart likely goes without saying. The drummer was ordained in 2022 as an NEA Jazz Master, just one of the many honors he has chalked up over a breathtaking career. He began his career with an apprenticeship under the revered vocalist Shirley Horn and went on to make notable music with such luminaries as Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz, and as part of the quartet Quest featuring David Liebman and Richie Beirach.
But Hart is, if anything, even more laudatory toward his younger bandmates. Street has been a member of the drummer’s stellar quartet for two decades, alongside pianist Ethan Iverson and saxophonist Mark Turner, a tenure that speaks for itself. As for Hays, Hart is quick to place the pianist in the exalted company of some of his iconic former collaborators.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to perform with Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner,” says Hart modestly. “Each generation presents their own equivalent, and Kevin is an example of the latest innovations. There was Herbie and McCoy, then it was Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, and then you have what’s coming next. I think Kevin is definitely part of that continuum.”
Though Hays sticks strictly to the piano on Bridges, he is also an accomplished singer whose vocal instincts fuel his inventive and lyrical melodicism. Street points to those facets as key to the connection between the pianist and Hart, who has enjoyed several meaningful collaborations with vocalists.
“It always seems to me that Kevin has the capacity to sing in his mind and then accompany himself on the piano,” Street describes. “That makes for such a nice connection with Billy, who has played with and learned from so many singers. I don’t even feel like we’re playing as a piano trio most of the time; it feels more like a quartet.”
Those qualities are especially clear on Hays’ “Butterfly,” which opens the album. Though it’s performed here as an instrumental, the pianist has composed lyrics for the piece, and its gorgeous, song-like quality shines through. Hays also contributed the breathtaking ballad “Song for Peace,” highlighted by Hart’s gentle, embracing brushwork and Street’s sturdy, stentorian tone. The pianist’s third original, “Row Row Row,” is constructed on a twelve-tone row, but as the playful title suggests, it has none of the more stringent qualities of the serialist composers.
Hart’s stunning “Irah,” originally recorded on his quartet’s self-titled 2006 debut, is dedicated to the composer’s mother, and was recorded at Street’s suggestion. The bassist also brought guitarist Bill Frisell’s reflective “Throughout” to the date, imagining Frisell’s Americana influences would resonate with the similarly inclined Hays, who approaches the tune with a harp-like beauty. Hays’ love of pop and rock music is also reflected by the inclusion of The Beatles classic “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
The trio pays tribute to the late, great Wayne Shorter with “Capricorn,” originally released on the composer’s 1969 Blue Note album Super Nova and later included on the Miles Davis Quintet set Water Babies. Hart called Shorter “one of a kind. I think of the many times I heard him excel – with the Maynard Ferguson Big Band, with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, with Weather Report. And in each case, he was innovative.”
Bridges closes with the title track, a dazzling piece by the great Brazilian singer and songwriter Milton Nascimento, which Hays calls “one of my favorite compositions ever, by anybody.”
Bridges was recorded under ideal studio conditions by a now-established trio with a weeks-long European tour under their belts. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about the album is not that Hays, Street, and Hart play so masterfully together – with three artists of their caliber, who could expect any less? – but that this second outing maintains the bold spirit of inquisitiveness and spontaneity that its predecessor naturally possessed. Credit that to a trio perpetually determined to discover new bridges worth building.
“Bridges” was produced by Paul Stache and Damon Smith, and recorded live in New York at Sear Sound’s Studio C on a Sear-Avalon custom console at 96KHz/24bit and mixed to 1/2″ analog tape.