Two decades into his recording career, master of jazz guitar reports from the stage for the first time.
In the beginning, it was billed as a project; then it was Bill Hart alone, albeit in the company of friends; but it’s called a band now – and that’s a sign of certain stylistic solidity in the six-stringer’s state of mind, despite the fluid nature of what his ensemble deliver on this concert document. Entry number six in the artist’s discography, “Live At Red Clay Theatre” – laid down in Duluth, Georgia in 2017 – spans all of his previous output, cherry-picking the most adventurous numbers from each album and adding a twist to every cut. Not that the listener has to be familiar with these tracks to be pulled in their vortex and enjoy the swirl.
It takes the sextet some time to achieve the vigorous state of ‘Deep Skies” and sway a solid riff in a hard fusion fashion only to loosen up and let each instrument roam and roar in a series of finely coordinated solos, and when the group reach such a stage, any trace of predictable move is thrown out the window. Opener “Beachside Isle” doesn’t linger in elegiac limbo too long anyway, before springing to life, but if Hart’s hurried strum and Pat Strawser’s icy ivories initially run parallel courses, Alex McGuiess’ sax will heat things up and lead the ensemble astray, on a trip where Steven Walker’s drums and Dwayne Wallace’s bass have a field day while providing a vast playground for Bill’s guitar to wallow in the luxury of freefall.
Once the band’s wild, though well-controlled, jive is spiked with Emrah Kotan’s percussion, it reveals a cosmic liberty, which may hit the peak later on in the picturesque “Spazio Aperto” and must be handled with care in “Canadese Africano” for a chilled-out magic not to spill over. Still, there’s solemnity to “Jim Gilligan” whose idyllic licks sound quite slick yet conceal sweet improv in their scintillating midst, a melange of soul and folk motifs that turn softer, but less exciting, in the countrified twang of “Sara’s Song” to instill progressive playfulness into the piece’s romantic roll and pass the mood to the reggae-tinged “That’s Purdy” – a ballad with a full-on rock potential artfully compromised by the tune’s tender textures.
The weave of synthesizers, six strings and brass on “Elected” has electric grace written over its jubilant, rhythm-and-blues, tribal vibes, yet it’s the shimmering “This Is Why” that soars from lament to rapture and elicit applause from the audience, the piece’s title replying to potential questions as to the reasons of this record being so riveting. “Playing For The Moment” is how the cut could be called alternatively, and that’s the key to the album’s genuinely live feel, making it a milestone in Bill Hart’s career.