Billy Hart, All Our Reasons. Jazz is such a prideful part of America's history, it would be a great thing if once a year every citizen would purchase an album from the musical style which is the envy of the world. Jazz was born here; why not pitch in and celebrate its exuberance too? Of course, such fanciful thoughts have about as much probability as the NRA merging with PETA to open a chain of tofu restaurants, but a man can dream, right? One of the absolute finest jazz albums of recent years is drummer Billy Hart's latest release, featuring young bloods Mark Turner on saxophone, pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street. Hart is a seasoned pro whose resume really does read like a Who's Who of modern jazz, and is the kind of player that knows exactly how to move the band in addition to coloring everything he touches. Turner is a tenor monster, pure and simple. He can go inside and outside and never lose the thread. Iverson is known for his work in the Bad Plus, and shows why he's become a modern keyboard king. All three bring emotional originals to the album, and while Street doesn't write any songs here, he does provide the heartbeat on every song. The cover photograph of New York's Empire State Building lit up at night captures the supreme glow of jazz in its hometown glory, just as each and every one of these songs does. Long may it live.Danny Kalb and Friends, Moving in Blue. Even if Danny Kalb's seminal '60s band the Blues Project (featuring founder Al Kooper, fellow Morton Report columnist extraordinaire) wasn't really a blues band, the guitarist would still have to be considered one of that decade's musical linchpins. His playing crossed blues with folk, rock, country and even jazz over the course of their albums, and before that he was one of the young white bluesmen who found nirvana in the music of Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin' Hopkins and other originators, and honored their creation with dedication and deep spirit. When the Blues Project recorded songs like "Flute Thing" and "Violets of Dawn" right alongside Jimmy Reed and Chuck Berry burners, they really were inventing something brand new. That it didn't last long is beside the point now, because what the band accomplished spread waves far and wide. Danny Kalb hit a rough patch but came back strong and his solo albums always appear like stepping stones to a sound only he could come up with. He's become an intriguing vocalist over the years, and never wastes a note on guitar. He learned all his lessons well 50 years ago and isn't about to forget them now. This double disc extends in a lot of directions, and lets listeners discover every side of Kalb's wondrous talents. Whether he's playing a Muddy Waters staple or a Tim Hardin gem, leave it to Kalb to find an inner beauty in everything he touches. Part of this album started as a partial Blues Project reunion but eventually became something else entirely. Producer Mark Ambrosino brought together the new recordings with 15 others recorded between 1995 and 2007 to show the entire spectrum of an American treasure. Danny Kalb might move in blue, but his real home is the musical rainbow inside us all.
Willy DeVille, In New Orleans. It wasn't a stretch for New York City fixture Willy DeVille to invade New Orleans and immerse himself in the music of the Crescent City. He was always a true-blue fan of rhythm and blues in all its varied forms, and being someone who knew an easeful groove when he heard one, DeVille took to the Big Easy streets with a warm grace. Whether he was covering Willie Tee, the Pitter Pats, Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas or even Prince La-La, the smooth operator effortlessly became a near-native in N.O. This collection of songs from two previous albums plays like a soundtrack for a movie yet to be made, one that would run from the Claiborne projects over to Magazine Street right on out St. Charles to City Park. Throw in some French Quarter foolishness with incredibly cool musicians like Leo Nocentelli, Wayne Bennett, George Porter, Eddie Bo, Sammy Berfect, Johnny Vidacovich, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint and Rene Coman, and there's no way these songs don't cook. Willy DeVille ended up moving to Picayune, Mississippi, probably chasing an elusive plantation owner's dream to match his elegant duds, and finally losing the battle with self-destruction that followed him around like a dark shroud. Life's not for everybody, but boy, did this man burn with music for a long, long time. When he finally found the levee and burned it down in New Orleans, Willy DeVille had worn several personas in life, but always stayed true to pursuing his muse. In the city that care forgot, let it be said this man cared a lot.