Although Richie Hart has been around the East Coast jazz scene since the '70s and has a long list of sidemen credits, his output as a leader has been sporadic. Recorded in 2003, Blues in the Alley is the guitarist's third album as a leader and his first since 1991's Remembering Wes on Triloka. Remembering Wes was, as its title indicates, a tribute to Wes Montgomery -- and stylistically, Blues in the Alley picks up where Hart's second album left off. Hart is still a very Montgomery-influenced player (with a strong appreciation of early George Benson as well), and he is still a hard bopper who knows his soul-jazz (which is why he has been employed as a sideman by Jack McDuff, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Don Patterson and other famous organists). Blues in the Alley isn't the least bit groundbreaking, but it's a decent effort that illustrates Hart's strong sense of swing and blues feeling as well as his ability to show his vulnerable side on ballads. And to Hart's credit, Remembering Wes doesn't have the sort of all-warhorses-all-the-time policy that plagues so many hard bop dates. Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't" and Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves" certainly fall into the warhorse category, but Hart also provides three tunes of his own and unearths some worthwhile songs that haven't been beaten to death, including Lalo Schifrin's "The Fox" and John Coltrane's "Black Pearls." Hart concludes this 54-minute CD on an enjoyable note with a medley of Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein gems from West Side Story, which speaks well of the guitarist because many other jazzmen are scared to death of Sondheim. This solid, if derivative, release makes one glad to see Hart recording as a leader again.
Blues in the Alley Review
by Alex Henderson