Saxophonist Antonio Hart has one of the most adventurous albums of his brief decade-long career as a leader in "Ama Tu Sonrisa." While the heretofore Cannonball Adderley-inspired tenor/alto/flute player sidesteps easy pigeonholes on this collection, he plays with as much passion as on past efforts. "For Amadou" is fiery, almost Gato Barbieri-ish, and the gorgeous flute he brings to the title piece is juxtaposed almost as if to set the parameters of the program. There are still glimpses of the straight-ahead player that endeared him to jazz fans during his tenure with Roy Hargrove, but there is none of the relative predictability. In the liners he writes of intentionally not listening to traditional jazz for a few years, choosing instead to mire himself in the musics of Cuba, Israel and North Africa. The results are glorious. The core of "Distant Cousins," for instance, has a decidedly Israeli desert drone with alto lines that work on the outside. As unlikely as it sounds, it! works splendidly. There are a couple of surprises here, in the re-working of "Have You Met Miss Jones" and the relatively straight reading of "Somewhere." The bulk of the program, though, is from Hart's impressively prolific pen.
He pays tribute to heroes in a trio of standout numbers. The soulful "Grover Washington, Jr." delivers a soulful alto line that evinces memories of Washington, though his spirit may be more fully fleshed out in Hart's reading of "Somewhere." "Forward Motion" is his salute to Cannonball, though it is more apparent in it's beautiful tone than in any straight mimicry. "Wayne's Lament" is a quiet, introspective, and lush acknowledgment of Wayne Shorter's influence.
Fans coming to this effort looking for Antonio Hart, the post-bop blower may be slightly put off by the program. Those who have come to respect his brilliant playing will find a broader palette with even more dazzling hues. The mark of an artist is best measured in his desire to grow. Antonio Hart has reached a new plateau.