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Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2 (2009)

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Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2 No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper has been keeping the jazz fires kindled by the ritualistic, incantatory side of the classic John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
Quartet stoked and burning bright for over a quarter-century. Here Harper's working quintet, augmented by a second bassist, presents a program redolent of the processional and the chant. Over it all, Harper's coruscating, brawny tenor strides like a colossus (only Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
may have a richer, fuller tone) with a charged intensity matching the roiling, loping, massed rhythms of drums, a pair of basses and the McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
-ish tidal waves of pianist Francesca Tanksley. Adding to the incantatory aura of the CD is Amiri Baraka, whose recited prose poem, "Where Dat Stuff Come From?," is heard over the first two, long tracks, "Africa Revisited" (adapted from Coltrane's "Africa") and "Knowledge of Self."

Baraka reshapes the history of jazz and the Middle Passage into a mythic fable, full of praise for heroes and heroines (like the "blue wonderfulness" of Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
or Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
, who people trailed around to see "if he had a gimmick. He did: It was him." Or how Coltrane "had to get Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
ishly profound.") Baraka reappears on the final track, "Oh...If Only," delivering his "Where Does the Music Come From?," both an affirmation of African musical roots and an acknowledgment of how far the music has come (he tells how Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
drums
played his drum kit in Africa and the people answered: "We hear you all but we do not understand you.")

In between the Baraka tracks are six pieces ranging from "a new kind of blues"; a gripping, pensive ballad dominated by a tenor sax/piano duet; a "Time and Time Again" sporting three meters in stormy cross-currents; Harper singing "Amazing Grace" (quite movingly) and the visceral highlight, "Cast the First Stone?," that Harper says, "has that raw thing that I like in the music," including a repeating four-note kicker that gives that grabbed-by-the-collar-and-shaken feel. Tanksley and trumpeter Keyon Harrold match the fierce intensity of Harper's solos, making the track a perfervid cri de coeur.

Track Listing: Africa Revisited; Knowledge of Self; Another Kind of Thoroughbred; Thoughts and Slow Actions; Time and Time Again; Who Here Can Judge Our Fates?; Amazing Grace; Cast the First Stone? (...If You Yourself Have No Sins); Oh...If Only.

Personnel: Billy Harper: tenor sax, vocal; Amiri Baraka: spoken word; Francesca Tanksley: piano; Aaron Scott: drums, percussion; Keyon Harrold: trumpet, French horn; Charles McNeal: alto sax; Clarence Seay: bass; Louie Spears: bass.

Record Label: Talking House Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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