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Antonio Hart: Blessings

After hearing Blessings, soul-jazz fans of a certain age will likely find themselves counting their own. Then again, even the uninitiated may be similarly inclined.

Beginning with a wonderfully evocative take on Jack McDuff’s “Rock Candy,” saxophonist Antonio Hart underscores his ties to vintage organ-jazz combos with the help of three kindred spirits: keyboardist Bobby Floyd, guitarist Yotam Silberstein and drummer Steve Williams. Gratitude may be the album’s prevailing theme, as its title suggests, but soulfulness is its core trait, a common thread that runs through a smart selection of original compositions and a mix of jazz and pop standards. Hart, on soprano and mostly alto saxophone, never puts a wrong foot forward as player or composer, but some performances nevertheless stand out, owing to his now robust, now piercing tone and his harmonic assurance. It’s a good thing, too, because a lesser talent would have a hell of a time negotiating the tricky hard-bop intervals that frequently arise-witness Hart’s angular “Up and Down”-or finessing Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” with such Basie-like aplomb. Indeed, on the latter, Hart’s reverberating alto sounds like a reed section unto itself.

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