Kevin Hays/Ben Street/Billy Hart

All Things Are
(Smoke Sessions Records)

Heralded for his melodic and harmonic ingenuity, Kevin Hays also has an inherent dance in his piano playing. It’s a joy to hear him with an all-star trio, which, after 1996’s Andalucia (with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette), has been surprisingly rare. All Things Are, on which Hays shares billing with bassist Ben Street and drummer Billy Hart, makes it worth the wait.

As the swing unfolds on the title track (Hays’ contrafact on guess-which-standard), the three musicians seem to bond at the molecular level. They engage in constant conversation throughout their solos, with the pianist responding in particular to cues from the drummer, while Street threads the needle with aplomb. Elsewhere, one struggles to say who’s leading whom. When the tenderness of “Eligia” gives way to a strut groove, it seems to be Hays at the wheel. Yet Street and Hart are clearly ready for each of his twists and turns, staying right on top of him even as he fractures phrases and beats.

The above-mentioned melodic/harmonic ingenuity is present as well — in spades. Hays wrote six of All Things Are’s seven tunes, and leads the way in reinventing them. While the whole trio gives a high-impact groove workout to his gorgeous “New Day,” Hays is the one throwing out abstract chordings and contemporary classical allusions; on the standard “For Heaven’s Sake,” he tests the tensile strength of the harmonies à la Geri Allen. Hart and Street get in on that action with “Sweet Caroline” (Hays’ tune, not Neil Diamond’s); their patterns, and their subtle disruptions thereof, are as inventive as anything Hays dreams up.

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