Billy Hart has been one of the best drummers in jazz for 50 years and has recorded voluminously, but Sixty-Eight is only his eighth album under his own name. Like a new-millennium Art Blakey, Hart leads a young sextet of hot emerging players, but the band here is edgier than the Jazz Messengers ever were. The careening, cacophonous repertoire comes from an earlier generation of free thinkers like Ornette Coleman and Sam Rivers. Alto saxophonist Logan Richardson, trumpeter Jason Palmer, pianist Dan Tepfer, vibraphonist Michael Pinto and bassist Chris Tordini raise hell on these challenging tunes, and it’s fun to hear their chops and passion, even if they don’t yet possess self-editing discipline and full creative control.
Palmer’s best moment is his tirade of sprayed, spattered notes on Jaki Byard’s “Mrs. Parker of K.C.” Richardson can function at several tempos in a single solo, as on two Eric Dolphy pieces, “Number Eight” and “Out There.” He streaks then reconsiders, slows, veers into a fresh hypothesis and forges ahead. Tepfer’s comping is aggressive, even confrontational, and his solos are lurching, scurrying, unpredictable maneuvers. Michael Pinto takes a winding, climbing solo on Rivers’ “Beatrice” that momentarily changes the album’s atmosphere to lyricism.
But the best thing about a recording led by Hart is the generous exposure to his volcanically eruptive, complex creative process. “Mrs. Parker of K.C.” opens with a classic Hart drum prelude; it’s full of tense rolls and dramatic crashes that act as either promises or threats. Hart is unique in his manipulation of space, and his rhythmic lines are broken by cryptic pauses. The scattered explosions make abstract designs; you hold your breath when he stops. In the sudden silence you feel him teetering on the brink, then he plunges down, viciously lashing, and when he settles into time it is an ecstasy of release.