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Artists attaining emeritus status almost always earn it the old fashioned way - through achievement. Two new records illuminate this point, both highlighting storied careers and an on-going dedication to the craft.

All Our Reasons

All Our Reasons, the ECM debut of drummer Billy Hart, might be a career record.The band - pianist Ethan Iverson, saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Ben Street - came together nearly 10 years ago, earning plaudits as a free-thinking aggregate capable of both hard swing and ethereal interplay.

Their basic convictions continue here, now fully formed as a group identity. Hart, is a telling leader; he sublimates his drum play to shape and sustain the group's emotional pulse - an actuating life force nurturing the band, leading it forward. The resulting music is purposeful yet evincing a spiritual air. Even amidst the finely calibrated kineticism of say, "Duchess," a track that moves from group-think to a gorgeous Hart solo and back, there is a prevailing calm of correctness. The sway is relaxed and deliberate. Throughout the album Turner offers plaintive oblations, heard clearly on the album's opener, "Song For Balkis." Iverson is a master knotsman, tying and untying his spare, thoughtful lines, providing both tension and slack; "Ohnedaruth" is a showcase for him. Street anchors, floats and propels.

Now 71, Hart has graced the bands of jazz's most significant figures, among them Wes Montgomery, Stan Getz, Jimmy Smith, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. With All Our Reasons he centers his chair, passing to the next generation of Turner, Iverson and Street the accumulated wealth of all he has learned - and an inextinguishable fire for more.

Don't Look Back
High Note

Possessing a similar disposition, Mary Stallings has just issued Don't Look Back on High Note. It features pianist and producer Eric Reed, and it is a summational record, filled with nuance and knowing assurances. Stallings is a confident narrator. She endows her reads with a polished smooth that summons the sound and manner of both Nancy Wilson and Carmen McRae. Not given to vocal histrionics, her presence is steady, her focus fully on the telling of the tale.

Essaying material by Mal Waldron, Roger Kellaway and Johnny Mandel, among others, Stallings takes her time in a dialect rich with blues and gospel influences. Her stories are inseparable from those of the songs - novellas unfolding, their meaning and emotion parsed slowly. On "Night Mist Blues" she bares the soul of a saloon singer with Reed showing us more honky-tonk than he has elsewhere. "The Way You Love Me" might be the album's most poignant track (with a superior Reed solo). And on "Don't Look Back," which gives the album its name, Stallings sounds downright wise, dispensing selfless counsel about life and living in the moment.

Bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Carl Allen keep the heat at a tantalizing simmer; their support is spare, providing less lift than forward motion. Their work - along with Reed's - is text book.

This record offers jazz listeners a rare opportunity - namely, how a seasoned performer lays it out. Like Billy Hart, Mary Stallings has seen and heard much. Here, she brings all.

Jeff Levenson is a label executive, writer-producer, and jazz journalist. His affiliations include posts at Half Note, Sony, Warner Bros, Downbeat and Billboard. He currently produces the annual Thelonious Monk Instrumental Competition, and has authored and/or produced events for the NEA, the US State Department, the White House, the New School for Social Research and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His credits include collaborations with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval, and McCoy Tyner. He has produced and/or supervised six Grammy albums - 2 winners, 4 nominees. He currently chairs the National Jazz Committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, serves as Board Governor for its New York Chapter, and digs the company of jazz musicians.


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