Barry Harris was always considered one of the elder statesmen of the Detroit scene, even though he was only in his thirties when he made his mark. Armed with a piano style based on the advances of Bud Powell, Harris dedicated his life to filling the vacuum left by the waning light of the bebop giants of NYC. To this end, he tutored several players of the Detroit scene, happy to share the spotlight with anyone who showed promise. Newer Than New
is such an album; forgoing the hard bop movement en vogue at the time, Harris has at one level created a forum for four up and comers to share their talents and at the same time delivered an RSVP to the bebop scene a few years after its zenith.
Newer Than New is an unlikely title for an album so rooted in the past; there's nothing particularly groundbreaking here. Harris is ostensibly using the template for jazz groups created by Parker and Gillespie to fashion his own bop anthems; he's a fine player, but nothing overly special. Harris protégés Hillyer and McPherson, who first spent time in Mingus' boot camp, aren't without their flaws; Hillyer doesn't hit every note squarely and McPherson borrows a few too many riffs from Parker's deck. However, there's no escaping the fact that these men are onto something here, and every tune sounds completely inspired. Harris has a knack for creating memorable heads; the wistful beginning to "Nightingale" in particular will stick in your head for days after one listen. Harris rightly uses this album as a vehicle to spotlight the two horns, who rise to the occasion magnificently, galloping over the changes like wild horses. Hillyer has a beautiful tone on the trumpet, warm and slurred when open, sharp and piercing when muted. McPherson, in contrast, scissors through the melodies, darting about like a moth trapped in a jar. Harris takes a few solos, but is mainly content to provide support and keep things on track.
None of these musicians really went on to create a name for themselves; mostly they just remained players who probably deserved wider recognition than they got. However, they've created one of those albums which jazzbos love: a bunch of plucky unknowns who recorded a flawed, but exceptional album. Not on the same shelf as Parker and Gillespie, but certainly in the same bookcase.
Personnel: Barry Harris, piano; Charles McPherson, alto sax; Lonnie Hillyer, trumpet; Ernie Farrow, bass; Clifford Jarvis, drums.