Vibraphonist, marimba-player, composer and sometime drummer Jim Hart is one of the most talked-about young players on the UK scene. The sparky themes here reflect the compositionally intricate approaches of Dave Holland, the American John Hollenbeck, and occasionally the textural twists of Bill Frisell – but the set's principal emphasis is on the spontaneous originality of Hart, alto saxophonist Ivo Neame, bassist Jasper Hoiby and Outhouse drummer Dave Smith. Right from the opening track, Narrada sounds like uncompromising but melodically very engaging contemporary postbop. Dark Moon starts hooty and free, full of empty spaces and cymbal-edge sounds, but shifts into a fast sax melody. The titletrack starts wistful but turns into funky salsa, with gruff sax hooks, and there's a lovely slow-whirling folksy melody to the closing Last of the Leaves.
John Fordam - The Guardian - 4 stars
It is of course invidious and even pernicious to compare bands containing similar personnel but it's rare that two such dynamic bands - Hart's Gemini and Neame’s quartet - get to release such strong recordings so closely together. ln Neame’s piano-led band, drummer Maddren often lays down a filigree of shapes as a back patterning or as a circumnavigation of the two highly percussive front men.
Gemini, however is more spacious, with Smith very much the high octane engine room. Neame, on sax in Gemini, is gleefully liberated from all the harmonic infrastructure of his own band and is given his head by Hart to just go out and blow. There's a wonderful freedom of spirit in his alto that leaves Hart equally free to conjure textures, patterns and effects rather than to take full on soloing duties. lf Gemini are a little rougher round the edges than Neame’s quartet they also have a wider emotional palette which makes them perhaps more immediately accessible: Neame is positively soulful on Kindred which features the warm toned pulse of Hoiby who also swings through the boppish thrust of Crunchy Country. Each track covers its individual ground, and though you may wish to hear more of Hart himself, Narrada's ultimate strength lies in its deeply grooved ensemble playing, each player, classically, a part yet apart. An hour's worth of music which repays much re-listening and presages great things from an impressively questing band.
Andy Robson – Jazzwise magazine
Taking its name from the Bodmin Moor settlement upon which vibraphone
player Jim Hart's parental farm stands, this album features three Vortex
regulars ; alto player Ivo Neame, bassist Jasper Hoiby,
drummer Dave Smith; alongside the composer/leader, recently
described as 'one of the brightest stars on the UK European jazz scene' by
John Surman. Both his writing and playing justify this high praise on this
rousing album, which consists in the main of driving, vigorous themes just
complex enough to engage the brain, but sufficiently groove-based to
enable the pleasingly dry-sounding Neame, the tumultuously vibrant Hart
himself and occasionally Høiby and Smith to stretch out on them in
their solo roles. There are stylistic nods to both the old and new New
York scenes in the Bill Frisell-inspired 'Crunchy Country' and 'Four
Little Words and the title track respectively, the latter two apparently
influenced by John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet. Overall, though, Hart is
very much his own man, his compositions revealing the singular talent that
has made his many Vortex appearances such a treat in recent years.
Chris Parker - Vortex
Initially coming to prominence as a member of Alan Barnes’ Liquorice Stick All-Sorts, Jim Hart is now ready to reveal his rather more modern compositional talents, this debut disc featuring just over an hour's worth of his own pieces.
The Gemini band represents a new wave of British jazz, featuring a flashy cast of alto saxophonist Ivo Neame, bassist Jasper Høiby and the now-ubiquitous drummer Dave Smith. Høiby may hail from Denmark, but he’s found a new home on the London jazz scene, not least as a bandleader himself, with the similarly dashing Phronesis. Gemini are also involved with the Loop Collective, something like Son of the F-ire Collective, propounding similar self-help strategies for London musicians.
Right from the opening Four Little Words, no dithering is allowed. The foursome gets straight into a propulsive intricacy that dominates most of the ensuing action. Themes ring in unison between vibraphone and saxophone, with Smith's drums rattling out a series of embellishing accents. It's a busy sound, but without clutter; like watching a confined chipmunk, desperately impatient for release (this is meant in a positive sense). All of the hyperactivity serves the melody, with Gemini managing to impart organic warmth on pieces are loaded with spiny constructions.
With a jolt, Dark Moon shifts down to minimalism, opening with a drum solo. The band enters and the spuming resumes, as micro-phrases create a stippling effect. Høiby has an unusually calming role – whenever he takes a bass solo, all else is stilled. This is a repeated technique that doesn't grow stale. Deviation is a prime example of how Hart's compositions swing with thoughtfulness, but the following Crunchy Country is an odd-tune-out, with its rocking-tattoo progression – as it struts along, one can easily imagine Acoustic Ladyland laying into an interpretation. Halfway through, though, it slumps into a Charles Mingus blues hangover, preparing the way for another atypical cut. The closing Last of the Leaves offers a reflective calm, as Hart imitates a slumbering church organ.
Images of Eric Dolphy and, by descent, Frank Zappa flit through the listener's mind, which also senses a likeness to the more recent work of John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet. Seven minutes is the average length of each number, and with its changeable moods, the album is very well-paced throughout. Contrast is Gemini's not-so-secret weapon.
Martin Longley – BBC Reveiw
The young multi instrumentalist Jim Hart is one of the most exciting young talents to have emerged in British jazz in recent years. Although a more than competent pianist and drummer it is his skills on the vibraphone that have brought him to national attention both as a leader of his own groups and as a star sideman with Michael Janisch, Alan Barnes, Ivo Neame and others.
Hart is a young man with a thorough understanding of the jazz tradition as his work with Barnes suggests, something re-enforced by the release of the excellent quartet album “Words And Music” earlier this year on Barnes’ Woodville Records label. Here Hart explored the melodies of jazz standards and popular songs that had inspired him but did so with a rigour and a contemporary edge that made the record essential listening. “Words And Music” is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
Gemini represents the more contemporary side of Hart’s music. He is a member of North London’s increasingly influential Loop Collective, an aggregation of talented young musicians exploring contemporary jazz and beyond. Gemini is less experimental than many of the other Loop bands but is none the worse for that and “Narrada” sees Hart and his group displaying an increased maturity in both writing and playing in comparison to the earlier (and already very good) “Emergence”.
“Narrada” takes it’s name from an ancient settlement on Bodmin Moor in Hart’s home county of Cornwall. Since “Emergence” Gemini’s personnel has altered with Jasper Hoiby (bass) and Dave Smith ( drums) replacing Mick Coady and Tom Skinner respectively. Ivo Neame, better known as a pianist, appears here exclusively on alto saxophone and gives an inspired performance. His unorthodox saxophone technique gives Gemini much of it’s unique flavour but really this is an inspired grouping incorporating four of Loop’s leading lights, it is perhaps the line up Hart aspired to all along.
I’ve seen Hart play several times in various contexts and he is a stunning and spectacular improviser with an astonishing four mallet technique inspired by the likes of Gary Burton and his one time mentor Joe Locke. “Narrada” sees him taking an increasing interest in the marimba which is featured on several of the album’s eight tracks. Hart’s tricky but invigorating themes are inspired by bebop and the music of Ornette Coleman but also by more contemporary figures such as John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet (which contains vibes player Mat Moran) and guitarist Bill Frisell.
All the tracks are Hart originals and the quartet kick off with “Four Little Words” a tricky bop inspired theme that summons some passionate alto from Neame and busy yet controlled drumming from the consistently excellent Smith. Hart’s increasing maturity as a writer is revealed by a gentler, more exploratory central section that contains excellent solos from himself and bassist Hoiby. The Dane also excels throughout, big toned and lyrical in his solos, anchoring the group together Charlie Haden style elsewhere.
“Dark Moon” opens atmospherically courtesy of drummer Smith’s sometimes spooky solo. Subsequently frenetic unison bursts led by Neame’s alto alternate with haunting, freer passages in a restlessly evolving composition. As on the opener Hart features on both vibes and marimba.
At over ten and a half minutes “Narrada” itself is the album’s stand out track. It builds from a gentle vibes/drum intro through Hoiby’s bass solo in a quiet opening section. There is then a lengthy, more propulsive passage framing strong solos from Neame and Hart. Even when Hart is not in the spotlight his insistent chording pushes his colleagues forward in tandem with Smith’s neatly energetic drumming. This is a band where all four members contribute to the overall group sound, there is some great ensemble playing here and throughout the album. Hart’s choice of band name makes it clear that this is indeed “a band”, an integrated unit not just the “Jim Hart Quartet” doing the theme/solos/theme thing.
“Kindred” is a beautiful abstract ballad that lowers the temperature and reveals the sensitive side of the band with pensive alto and shimmering vibes, woody bass and delicately shaded percussion. Much of Gemini’s output is, dazzling, high octane stuff so this atmospheric piece represents a welcome change of pace.
“Deviation” is a return to typical Gemini territory with a slippery bop inspired theme; complex yet engaging and accessible. Hoiby impresses with a vibrant bass solo and Hart sparkles at the vibes. The dazzling closing passages offer something of a feature for Outhouse drummer Smith.
“Crunchy Country” is Hart’s tribute to the music of guitarist Bill Frisell and shares something of the American’s famous quirkiness. In the tune’s more abstract moments Hart can be heard using a bow on his vibes, a technique frequently deployed by the Claudia Quintet’s Mat Moran.
The unhurried “Colette” makes greater use of space and Hart shows a more lyrical touch at the vibes. The pace increases in the second half of the tune as Neame’s alto begins to take flight.
“Last Of The Leaves”, an appropriate title given the album’s November release date concludes proceedings on an elegiac note. The gentle almost, folk like melody is sketched by Neame’s alto and enhanced by Hoiby’s deeply resonant bass solo and Hart’s flowing vibes. It’s lovely way to end a magnificent album.
“Narrada” represents a considerable step forward for Hart. His writing is consistently interesting and the playing by an all star group, each is a bandleader in his own right, exceptional. The ensemble playing is tight and focussed and the solos powerful and distinctive. Neame’s playing is particularly striking, on alto he relishes the chance to get out there blow, it’s a marked contrast to the self discipline he displays on piano when leading his own groups. Essentially though this is a fine team effort all round with each member excelling in his own way.
Ian Mann - The Jazzmann
This is the first recording from vibraphonist Jim Hart's Quartet. Subtitled A Tribute to the Art of Song, the album is Hart's attempt to reinterpret some songs by classic songwriters as well as to debut two of his own, and it's a successful attempt.
Despite the title, there are no vocals on any of the nine tracks. Instead, Hart's vibes take on most of the responsibility for the vocal lines, with playing that is extremely melodic and interpretive. His slightly angular take on the vocal line to the opener "It Might As Well Be Spring" shows immediately that he can bring a fresh interpretation to a classic song while remaining sympathetic to the original.
"Just One of Those Things" offers a really interesting take on a classic song. Coming in at just eight-and-a-half minutes, Hart's interpretation opens with a funky introduction, dominated by himself and drummer Tristian Maillot, before all four musicians move into a chorus or two of the melody and go on to a series of looser interpretations in which bassist Mick Coady and pianist Ivo Neame get a chance to stretch out. The original tune is never far below the surface, but each of the players revisits it with lively inventions. Schwartz and Harburg's "I'll Be Tired Of You" is beautifully played; Hart resists the temptation to fill in every beat and his economy is echoed by the other players.
The remaining tracks (including two written by Hart) are less well-known: one, "It Took Me By Surprise." has yet to be recorded as a vocal number; and Antonio Carlos Jobim's beautiful "Piano Na Manguiera."
Hart's other main project, Jim Hart's Gemini, is a freer, less straight-ahead, ensemble whose own debut album Emergence (Loop Records, 2006) is also worth checking out. Hart also works regularly with Sir John Dankworth, Gwilym Simcock, Alan Barnes and others. He is emerging as one of the most versatile players on the jazz scene and this album serves to emphasize that versatility.
Bruce Lyndsay - All About Jazz
Hart is a young UK vibraphonist who likes the standards book, but isn't enslaved by everybody else's use of it. He shares an acclaimed quartet with his gifted piano contemporary Ivo Neame, and the bustling rhythm duo of bassist Mick Coady and drummer Tristan Maillot. The set is a lively programme of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Porter, Jobim and other classics (including Steve Swallow's much-played Ladies in Mercedes). If the modus operandi is the familiar straightahead solos-in-turn approach, and the language is pretty undiluted bebop, the resourcefulness of Hart and Neame gives it all the kind of freshness that the best improvisers are able to do with every new generation. The band has an engagingly MJQ-like cool grooviness on a mid-tempo piece like Sarah Vaughan's Shulie-a-bop, and Just One of Those Things is transformed from its usual languid resignation to a brisk hustle, with the rhythmic shape of its tune rejigged. Ladies in Mercedes has an almost Steve Reich-like compulsiveness about its opening; Hart's two originals are melodically devious bop swingers; and Jobim's Piano Na Manguiera elicits just the right tonal glow from the leader. It's not hard to hear why this group is such a popular draw on the UK live circuit.
John Fordham - The Guardian
A young vibraphone player best known so far for his bravura playing with the New Couriers, Jim Hart reveals another side of his musical personality here. The nine pieces, ranging from bebop to bossa nova, are cast in standard song form and his ingenious treatments show what a wealth of variety can be drawn from this format. He creates a marvellous diversity of tone on an instrument once put down as a tinkling lightweight. Hart's interplay with Ivo Neame, a most impressive young pianist, is quite magical at times. Bassist Mick Coady and drummer Tristan Maillot complete an excellent quartet.
Dave Gelly - The Guardian
Young multi-instrumentalist Jim Hart (who has performed and recorded on Vibraphone with New Jazz Couriers, Gwilym Simcock and behind the drum kit with the John Dankworth Big band among others) played an impressive live set of originals in February at the Loop Collective festival with his band Gemini. With his four mallet technique, Hart has the facility to dazzle on the instrument, but he can also carve out imaginative solos of purpose and suppleness. This is the first recording by his straightahead quartet formed in 2005 but these same qualities apply here. Add to that some nicely weighted articulation and sense of swing on the CD that includes some Hart’s personal favourites from the great American songbook. There’s also a bossa, a couple of time-honoured Hart originals and modern standard Steve Swallow’s ‘Ladies in Mercedes’, a piece regularly played by Gary Burton, a big hero of Hart’s. ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’ and ‘You Go to My Head’ are here but so is less familiar fare such as the Sarah Vaughn scat vehicle ’Shulie-A-Bop’. Hart’s deep tender tone and rhythmic intricacy steers ballads ‘You Go to My Head’ and ‘I’ll Be Tired of You’ clears of any vibes-lounge schmaltz. As with Hart, the casually understated, probing pianist Ivo Neame, a regular collaborator of the Vibraphonist’s, can also play prettily without surrendering to mannered sentimentality. We’re on old familiar ground here, but as personal explorations of the standard repertoire go it’s full of new ideas.
Selwyn Harris – Jazzwize magazine
The title of this album is something of a misnomer. Subtitled “A Tribute To The Art Of Song” it is actually all instrumental with leader Jim Hart choosing his material from lyrics and vocal performances that firstly have inspired him and secondly suit the way this quartet plays.
Originally from Cornwall Hart is now based in London where he is part of the increasingly influential Loop Collective of young musicians. He is a talented multi-instrumentalist playing vibraphone, piano and drums with great proficiency but he is probably best known for his work on the vibes, the instrument he deploys here. Joining him on this album are fellow Loop member Ivo Neame on piano with Mick Coady on double bass and Tristan Maillot at the drums.
“Words And Music” is Hart’s second album as a leader. The first saw him leading his band Gemini on “Emergence” (2006) a strong collection of original material that marked the first release on the Loop Collective’s own label. Neame, a talented multi-instrumentalist himself, here appeared on alto sax with Coady also present and correct in the line-up.
If “Emergence” documented the more contemporary side of Hart’s work then “Words And Music” reveals his roots in the jazz tradition. It appears on Woodville records, the label of versatile saxophonist Alan Barnes with whom Hart has also worked in a relatively “straight ahead” context.
I’ll admit that when I first received this album I was a little wary fearing that a collection of standards headed by a vibes player may be rather bland and stray too close to “lounge jazz” or “elevator music”. I needn’t have worried, Hart is such a gifted and fluent improviser that these nine “songs” are just bursting with fresh ideas. The interplay between vibes and piano is excellent and Neame has rarely sounded so good. Coady and Maillot make a flexible and supportive rhythm team who are an integral part of the collective process. Having reviewed both “Emergence” and a recent live performance by Hart as part of a quartet under Neame’s leadership at Much Wenlock it was pretty foolish of me to have any concerns at all. These boys know exactly what they’re doing and “Words And Music” is pretty much a treat throughout.
Hart’s liner notes detail how the songs came to influence him and the quartet kick off with an invigorating version of Rogers & Hammerstein’s “It Might As Well Be Spring”. Hart’s introduction to this was the Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto version with one of Hart’s all time heroes Gary Burton on vibes. Like Burton, Hart has a prodigious four mallet technique and the ideas just come tumbling out from him. Neame’s contribution is nearly as fine and Maillot’s nimble drumming the perfect accompaniment . An excellent start. “Shulie-A Bop” was written by George Treadwell with scat “lyrics” later added by the great singer Sarah Vaughan. Hart’s introduction was via a trio version on a date led by drummer Roy Haynes and featuring pianist Danillo Perez and bassist John Pattituci. The slithery bebop lines suit the vibes well and Hart sounds marvellous here with plenty space left for Maillot and Coady to trade ideas. Great fun all round. As Hart observes any song based collection just has to include Cole Porter, probably the cleverest and sharpest lyricist of them all. This interpretation of “Just One Of Those Things” was inspired by Ella Fitzgerald’s version of the tune The quartet allow plenty of room for improvisation and soloing with bassist Coady once again prominent.
After an opening salvo of up tempo numbers “I’ll Be Tired Of You” is a beautiful ballad that showcases the shimmering quality of the vibes. With Neame’s lyrical piano, Coady’s rich warm bass tones and Maillot’s delicate brushwork it all adds up to a masterly interpretation of a tune first discovered by Hart in a version by the Dudley Moore trio (yes,THAT Dudley Moore) in a version with singer Marion Montgomery. Steve Swallow’s masterful composition “Ladies In Mercedes” remains a vital part of Gary Burton’s repertoire. English singer Norma Winstone added lyrics to the tune later, one of the most convincing examples of “vocalese” ever. This must be one of Swallow’s best known tunes and the quartet more than do it justice in a spirited version that contains inventive solos from both Hart and Neame with Maillot also featuring strongly.
“It Took Me By Surprise” is Hart’s attempt to write a song along “Great American Songbook” lines. It even has a lyric, which remains unsung here. In any event the tune convinces in itself and is highly reminiscent of Hart’s chosen idiom. It fits in just fine with the rest of the album with the composer taking the instrumental honours on the vibes. Bassist Coady also shows up well with another dexterous solo. “You Go To My Head” marks a return to gentle ballad territory in a delicate version of a tune made famous by Billy Holiday. Neame’s reflective solo is a particular delight here. “The Cat In The Hat” is a Hart original with words (unheard in this context) later added by singer Anita Wardell. It’s another bop flavoured outing full of quicksilver vibes and piano underpinned by tricky but swinging rhythms from the impressive drum and bass team. Maillot even gets to enjoy a few drum fills.
Finally comes one of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s lesser known tunes “Piano Na Manguiera”, a song Hart discovered on a trip to Brazil in 2002. the quartet’s good natured rendition ends the album on a relaxed note, a nice contrast to the densely knit improvisation on some of the previous tracks. Hart is a major talent who deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as his vibes heroes Gary Burton and Joe Locke. He is a brilliant improviser and his quartet match him every step of the way. They bring something fresh and vital to even the hoariest of jazz standards and this album reveals something new with each listening. The high technical standards achieved by the engineering team of Dick Hammett, Andrew Cleyndert and Chris Lewis are also an important factor in the album’s success. “Words And Music” is the result of an excellent all round team effort and ranks as one of the most enjoyable British jazz releases of the year.
Ian Mann - thejazzmann.com