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October 2004

Antonio Hart
All We Need
Downtown Sound

Anybody up for some Grover Wash-ington Jr. redux? Much of saxophonist Antonio Hart's latest CD sounds an awful lot like Live at the Bijou-era Washington-minus the sweat and sinew that lifted Grover's best work. Hart is capable of some heat, as on "Auditory Illusion" where he builds a solo nicely, and also digs relatively deep during a free-ish episode on "Imagination." Of course, we're not talking Coltrane here; Hart's passion is circumscribed. But given the boatloads of emotionally constipated music being recorded in the name of jazz these days, I'll take what excitement I can get.

Unfortunately, Hart embraces the zeitgeist for most of the rest-tunes like the medium-up swinger "Bruh' Slim," while sharply executed, give off about as much warmth as a convenience-store hot dog (and the less said about the smooth jazz vocals that begin and end the album, the better). In a way, the funk tracks actually come off best, if only because you almost expect them to be bland. At the very least, it's refreshing to hear music with a backbeat played by a live rhythm section. The cast of many includes Jimmy Heath on tenor, Lonnie Plaxico on bass and Billy Kilson on drums, all of whom are more than adequate. Hart plays more soprano than alto; he's got nice chops on both horns.

I've got nothing against a guy playing in a funk bag-I cut my teeth on Mister Magic-but if you're gonna get down, you'd better get dirty. Too often, Hart plays like he can't afford his cleaning bill.

Originally published in October 2004
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