Lafayette Harris,Jr.: In The Middle of the Night (2007)
In The Middle Of The Night is pianist Lafayette Harris' first funk and contemporary jazz album (e.g. smooth or urban jazz). That is exactly why I approached this disc with such trepidation, having positive memories of his first albums on Muse in the early 1990s. His debut, Lafayette is Here (Muse, 1993) was a fine date with Don Braden, Terell Stafford, Lonnie Plaxico and Cindy Blackman and the follow-up Happy Together (Muse, 1996) was a trio date with singer Melba Moore. Harris' following albums on his own label, Airmen, consisted of a Christmas date, solo piano and now his first in nine years.
Lafayette Harris has been busy expanding his musical horizons by, among other things performing as a keyboardist for Broadway musicals including The Color Purple and Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk. That is why it is discouraging to see that he has taken a step in the direction of an oversaturated subgenre of jazz.
Harris can easily match the musical accomplishments of other contemporary jazz keyboardists, but he becomes lost in the pool of currently existing players. He contributes more than half of the album as original material, borrows two from Texas smooth keyboardist James McBride and covers one of the Gamble & Huff Philly Soul titles, "Darlin' Darlin' Baby." Even the presence of solid mainstream jazz players like saxophonist Donald Harrison, trumpeter Terell Stafford and drummer Buddy Williams really don't bring that much to the table.
Fortunately the latter half of the album does have some positive aspects. The performance of Brazilian percussionists Cafe and Norman Hedman on the salsafied "Vamanos" brings some heat to the album as does the street samba beat of "Those Memories" a la Cafe's samba whistle. Nat Adderley's "Work Song" brings Harris' interpretation closer to the style of the Ramsey Lewis Trio during his heyday when he was cranking out pop jazz hits. There are also several vocal tunes during the course of the album featuring Mike Hammond, Oman Fonzarelli and Alyson Williams.
Track Listing: In the Middle of the Night; Saturday; Carmella; Darlin' Darlin' Baby; Honeylike; The Milky Way; Vamonos; The Work Song; Those Memories; Athens; A Little Feel Thing.
Personnel: Lafayette Harris,Jr.: piano, keyboards, bass synth, Fender Rhodes; Ben Butler: acoustic and electric guitars; Gary Hasse: bass; Buddy Williams: drums; Cafe: percussion; Norman Hedman: p;ercussion; Terell Stafford: trumpet; Donald Harrison: alto sax; Kevin Louis: trumpet; Cleave Guyton: flute; Ray Naccari: additional drum programming; Mike Hammond: vocals; Omari Fonzarelli: vocals; Alyson Williams: vocals.