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Antonio Hart: Blessings

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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.

Still, Blessings is a team effort, with ample room for everyone involved. Organist Floyd, naturally, is responsible for stoking the fires much of the time, but he also contributes to the album’s subtle charms. The same is true of Silberstein, who contrasts minor-key lyricism with popping blues riffs and swirling patterns of 16th notes, and Williams, who adroitly shades ballads when he isn’t stirring the pot with tumbling rhythms and jabbing accents. Small wonder Hart is feeling thankful these days.

Originally Published