Winard Harper Sextet: Make It Happen (2006)
Jazz records made in one day aren't particularly unique. But looking at the large cast of players on Make It Happen, one has to be impressed at the amount of planning that went into the sessionan effort that, in the hands of lesser mortals, might suck the life out of such an ambitious outing. But drummer Winard Harper's disc is a lively if not slightly schizophrenic date that mixes up strong African and Afro-Cuban rhythms, mainstream swing, and even a little soul jazz. Sequencing is everything and, surprisingly, what could come off as unfocused is instead infectious, accessible and eminently fun.
A resume that includes work with David "Fathead Newman, Houston Person and Dexter Gordon gives Harper all the cred he needs in the bop and soul departments. His own discs, including Come Into the Light (Savant, 2004), have demonstrated an increasingly broad set of interests. Harper and percussionists Kevin and Jeremy Jones kick off Charlie Parker's "Segment here, setting the excitement quotient high on a track that swings its ass off. Harper adds a fourth percussionist, Abdou Mboup, on the more groove-centric "Children of the World, which opens up for a powerful tenor solo by Lawrence Clark.
"Morning Glow is more relaxed, featuring concise but beautifully constructed solos from Clark, trumpeter Josh Evans and altoist Antonio Hart. The title track covers a lot of ground, beginning with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon's didgeridoo, leading into a delicate tribal percussion section featuring Harper on balafon, then settling into a soul jazz groove with Gordon back for a trombone solo that ranges from supple to growling. Harper's ability to bring together so many seemingly disparate styles without feeling cluttered or incongruous is remarkable.
Elsewhere the lines are more clearly defined. Bassist Aimeen Saleem's "Tamisha is a relaxed feature for Hart, while the standard "I've Never Been in Love Before is a lithely swinging track that spotlights Evans' behind-the-beat phrasing. Gordon's "Get It! Get It! is an up-tempo burner with defined by vivid solos from Gordon, Harper, Evans and Clark. Clark is a real discovery, and a player well worth watching.
The rest of the disc continues to mix and match. Harper's mallet-driven "Divine Surveillance, the juke joint blues of "After Hours and the closing "The Prayer another visceral percussion track featuring Harper on balafon and Mboup's vocalsare clear highlights.
With artificial borders being dissolved in music all the time, it's good news that albums like Make It Happen need no longer suffer from criticisms of being too eclectic. Instead, it's just another example of how the world is getting smaller, and in the best possible way.
Track Listing: Segment; Children of the World; Morning Glow; Make It Happen; Tamisha; I've Never Been in Love Before; Get It! Get It!; Not One Chance; Reflection; Divine Surveillance; Lourana; Chronic Mistakes; BangBangBoomBoomBapBap; After Hours; The Prayer.
Personnel: Winard Harper: drums, balafon (2,15); Wycliffe Gordon: trombone (4,7,14), didgeridoo (4); Antonio Hart: alto saxophone (3,5,6); Josh Evans: trumpet; Lawrence Clark: tenor saxophone; Stacy Dillard: tenor saxophone (1,12); T. W. Sample: piano; Sean Higgins: piano (1,9,12); Ameen Saleem: bass; Alioune Faye: sabar, jamba, djembe; Abdou Mboup: talking drum (tama) (2,15), vocal (15); Kevin Jones: conga, jamba, shaker, triangle; Jeremy Jones: tambourine, cowbell, dundun.