Barry Harris Quintet: Newer Than New (1961)
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.
Track Listing: Mucho Dinero, Easy To Love, Burgundy, The Last One, Anthropology, I Didn't Know What Time It Was, Make Haste, Nightingale.
Personnel: Barry Harris, piano; Charles McPherson, alto sax; Lonnie Hillyer, trumpet; Ernie Farrow, bass; Clifford Jarvis, drums.
Record Label: Fantasy Jazz