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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Richie Hart: Blues in the Alley

Richie Hart
Blues in the Alley

Richie Hart’s relation to the music of the late Wes Montgomery doesn’t go unremarked in the notes to this set, and is anyway perfectly audible in the course this extremely good performance. It did seem once that Montgomery “tributes” even of a more imitative sort would be welcome; that master’s creative career was so short. After the discovery that Montgomery could perform pap brilliantly he was used for banal purposes by record company producers until the demands of that more lucrative career precipitated the fatal heart attack. You should see the joy with which Montgomery jams alongside Johnny Griffin et al. on a European television film worth finding on DVD if it ever emerges. Take a listen to Blues in the Alley too!

Pete Levin’s synthesizer opens this set making a strange noise suggesting extreme novelty. This turns out to be the witty melodramatic prelude to a splendid “Well, You Needn’t” on which the drummer seems to have gone for a (small) coffee and left a machine on. Maybe it is a hip-hop treatment of the Monk masterpiece, but the bass keeps things low and contrapuntal beyond that sub-genre’s range. Pete Levin never seemed to take the synthesizer seriously when with Gil Evans, and the organ chords with which he closes this substantial and far from funless opening track show Richie Hart’s in good company.

Levin swings and sways like maybe Jimmy Smith on the title track, with a lovely burble and warble to his playing. He drops out for what is I think (see next paragraph) “The Fox”, a bop trio number on which the bassist, Rick Petrone, plays so nice an accompaniment he generates melodic lines worth developing as a solo. This being the kind of record on which what ought to happen actually does, the bass solo does happen.

As a semi-nomadic user of CD wallets (can’t carry all those jewel cases around!), I get annoyed when Zoho or too many others fail to print track details on the removable insert. It’s even more annoying when the track order is wrong, as here. Whichever title is Clifford Brown’s “Sandhu” (no chance to check with other recordings, but it’s probably track four), it’s an excellent performance of an admirable choice. You can say that about any of these, though at different times Richie Hart reminds of different other guitarists. It wouldn’t be the worst thing you could say about him that he sounds like Wes Montgomery. It wouldn’t be by any means the truest either, since there’s a lot more. If sounding like Wes is the most attractive route across the chords, fine. There’s a bit of young George Benson and some Joe Pass and really that’s no more than a literate jazz guitar vocabulary. A few more CDs by Richie Hart (not a bad idea!) and I’d probably recognise his individual distinctiveness too.

I can identify the old warhorse “Georgia On My Mind” (Levin has the organ stops out) and the one tune on which Gerry Niewood’s decidedly straight-up tenor saxophone is identified in the notes as “Black Pearls”, a John Coltrane composition without the Trane-isms too many hormen have seemed to think compulsory.

Rick Petrone shines again on bass during “Autumn Leaves”, another recognisable standard: medium tempo with just the bounce of a seasonal breeze. Mellow and fruitful enough to satisfy at length that performance surely is, but reviewers should use such language sparingly.

Levin is, I presume, the pianist on the eighth track into the CD (which is, I believe, Hart’s “Fresh Air”, numbered “7” in the defective listing) and very pretty indeed is the playing, interacting with the composer.

The next track is Jobim-esque and features just the guitar-bass-drums trio. Levin’s presence elsewhere wasn’t necessary, seeing that Hart is capable of real variety. But the keyboardist does enhance that variety. This is a really straight-up exceptional swinging, a profoundly joyful example of guitar jazz. One Joyce Cooling is quoted on the insert to the effect that “You feel [Richie Hart’s] cooking up his solos right there on the spot”.

Indeed I do. The photo on the insert also deserves a prize. The splendid drummer-percussionist, Joe Corsello (too thoroughly consistent to be mentioned above) looks as if his chin is about to drop to the ground in the alley where the three men are standing with their backs to a piece of graffiti. They all look as if they have just heard some devastating news. They look as if they need some soothing. I’d be glad if this review provided that, as the music did me no end of good. A good one.

RATING 8 / 10