Various Artists: A Great Night In Harlem (2002)

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Various Artists: A Great Night In Harlem

Mixed Blessings—Mixed Feelings

Recordings like A Great Night In Harlem tend to have the parts greater than the sum. Performed and recorded to benefit The Jazz Musician’s Emergency Fund, A Great Night contains some very great moments. Central to the collection is Cassandra Wilson’s 10-minute take on the Son House opus, "Death Letter." Beautifully rendered with her voice filled with dust and peat, Wilson delivers a definitive jazz reading of this Delta classic, backed by the exceptional talent of Marvin Sewell on slide guitar. Ray Bryant offers a touching and spare solo "Con Alma" and Ahmad Jamal, in a quartet setting, tears into his own "Devil’s In My Den" with a daring ear. Tommy Flanagan, in one of his last performances, salutes Ellington (as only he can) with a trio-fueled "Sunset and The Mockingbird." The night is closed with Be Bop, appropriately, Denzil Best’s "Wee" ("Alvin’s Alley"), lead by Clark Terry and Phil Woods in the principle roles.

One cannot effectively criticize a good cause. The Jazz Musician’s Emergency Fund, a part of the Jazz Foundation of America , is a most worthy cause on behalf of American Artists. Whether the recording suits this critic’s taste or not is beside the point. For those interested, it is the mentioned few performances that make this recording desirable if not essential. The lack of thematic cohesion in collections like this always troubles me, but then again how could anything be more cohesive than helping people?

Track Listing: Disc 1: No Greater Love; If I Had You; Devil's In My Den; Don't Explain; Roy Haynes Solo; Fan Fare For Four Trumpets. Disc 2: Sunset And The Mockingbird; Death Letter; Con Alma; We Have A Friend In Jesus; Everyday I Have The Blues; Wee (Total Time: 55:48).

Personnel: A Cast of Thousands.

Record Label: Concord Music Group

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream

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