You can tell the heat of the trio by the laughter boiling over. Not in all cases, admittedly, but for this session, the exhortations and chuckles, picked up by the mic, drive drummer Billy Hart, bassist Ben Street, and pianist Kevin Hays—with a gentle nudge here, a harder shove there—to greater pleasures, in greater complexities, even as they start in simplicity.
Recorded live on the bandstand of a sans-audience Smoke Jazz Club, this date finds Hays and Hart switching posts between leader and led. The drummer can be a one-man solar system through his cymbals and dry snare, while the piano hops around the stereo spectrum, a fire sometimes banked as Hart muses, sometimes roaring ahead and around. I’m intrigued how Street keeps himself to one side, stereo- and muse-wise. But from a little farther back he always comments, astutely, quietly, in wisdom.
Hays states that the virus gave him the chance to improve, practicing at home, but he worried about losing his ability to relate to others. Sounds like he needn’t have worried. Three tunes here stemmed directly from him; three others sprang up as contrafacts of standards. Reworking “All the Things You Are” into “All Things Are” gives you its hint from the new title: leaving things out to put most anything in, thus expanding possibilities from the already-rich cycle of fifths in the original. Street waits patiently for his chance, gets it, and explains everything the other two left out. I grow weary and numb and even cynical watching the news, feeling the grind through my bones; then I hear this, and our race seems worth saving.