The Ritchie Hart Trio might be a must-see in a live setting, but here they certainly aren't playing live.
The Ritchie Hart Trio present three scowls on the front of the present set. They can't be scowling at my review of their previous Zoho CD, Blues in the Alley , or at my remark about how miserable they looked on the front of that. As for the recommendation inside the cover, that any chance to hear these guys live should be taken at once, it bears my seal of approval. They have a sense of humour, precise wit: they can lighten to the extent of mugging on the cover, but lightweight they ain't.
However, the present set doesn't register to the same degree as its predecessor, maybe because on this occasion I do not hear them playing live. I fear my slightly sad deduction is this: a case of overproduction. Some unnecessary factors seem to get in the way.
It's not that Dr. Lonnie Smith is one of them (pictured here not as the turban-wearer seen on German television but with a spade beard and superhandlebar 'tache and sometime-Cat-Stevens doyly cap). While he does his thing OK, if not quite with his usual A1 on B3 Hammond Organ, the guitarist does his only in too subdued a fashion. They work well together at some cost to the spiritedness which makes Hart stand out. The opening track is the "Greasy Street" of the CD's title, and possibly reflects somebody's undue tolerance of pop-marketing cliché: soul, old New Orleans, Hammond B3 organ, tenor saxophone. Dr. Lonnie's here, Jerry Weldon on tenor and Clifton Anderson on trombone (his sole appearance). Jolly soul-funk with NO rhythm. Nat Cole's "Frim Fram Sauce" shows off Rick Petrone's bass guitar; Weldon's still there on tenor, Pete Levin's (organ) keyboard to the rear, and still the music's lightweight.
The notes suggest that Hart has in some respects been been taken up by Petrone and the drummer, Joe Corsello, and they never let things down. "Tyrone" is more organ, tenor, guitar, and is still somewhat subdued. Pete Levin is back on Coltrane's "Naima", and somehow Hart has been superadded playing acoustic, rhythm guitar, not for the only time on this set. It's only padding, and a slight and not beneficial sort of overproduction. Hart's still subdued, though playing beautifully as ever on "East Coast Blues". Smith just lacks incisiveness; for all that I'd give the drummer a prize for being wholly on the right lines. The bassist gets the prize for his playing on Ron Carter's "Third Plane"; both he and Hart play with admirable sense of colour on this quiet medium tempo performance. The others support Petrone's solo very well indeed, and add to the merits of the drummer's solo.
For the rest there's Joe Henderson's "Recorda Me", more dubbed and excessively shading acoustic guitar on a bossa number. After Jimmy Smith's "Mellow Mood", Petrone is done no favours by the acoustic guitar added to the performance of "I'll See You in my Dreams", which the guys remind me is a very nice tune indeed. The dubbed guitar is so quiet it almost might not be there -- but it covers the bassist's playing, and gets in the way of a better performance.
I very much want to hear the trio live, and I don't mind Pete Levin. This is well-played, with an admirable selection of tunes, but it lacks the spark of the trio's previous set, and if this is because some geezer thought they lacked colour and needed what was added here, I am not a fan of that geezer's hearing. I have had reason to expect rather a lot from these three guys (and Pete Levin).