Barry Harris: Live in New York (2003)
Do they give Grammy Awards for the best performance by an underrated jazz performer? If they do, last year's winner would have to have been saxman Von Freeman's The Improvisor. This year the top nominee would have to be pianist Barry Harris, for Live in New York. Harris has been playing jazz in the mode of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and other bop icons for round about fifty years now, recording numerous albums as a leader on mostly smaller labels like Prestige and Riverside; he's recorded with Elvin Jones; worked with Cannonball Adderley's group in the early to mid-sixties... and the impressive resume goes on. But I think it's fair to say that he still isn't a household jazz name.
Live in New York, recorded last year in the Big Apple, is a quintet outing that should help remedy that situation. Harris is joined on this offering by Charles Davis (tenor), Roni Ben-Hur (guitar), Paul West (bass), and long-time collaborator Leroy Williams on drums.
The band opens the evening with an extended version of Tad Dameron's "Casbah." The atmosphere is laid-back, relaxed the way only a group of consumate pros can do it. The Harris-penned "Monking Around" is a loving tribute to, who else, Thelonious Monk, and of special note here are the sweet textures woven by Ben-Hur's guitar and Harris's piano.
Now is a good time mention tenor saxophonist Charles Davis. New to me, Davis has what has been called a "signature abandon" to his playing style. He has a tendency to ramble around the melody, giving the impression that he just might lose it with his loose-jointed blowing approach, but he never does: he's always right on the money, in his own easy-flowing way.
On the perennial Monk tune "Round Midnight" everyone in the band seems to amble around the theme while Davis holds it rock steady. They nail this classic song with a classic performance.
A first rate, low-key live performance of mainstream jazz by a veteran with a top notch crew.
Track Listing: Casbah, Monking around, Two Steps, To Dizzy With Love, Round Midnight, 7-4-3
Personnel: Barry Harris, piano; Charles Davis, tenor sax; Roni Ben-Hur, guitar; Paul West, bass; Leroy Williams, drums