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With three selections from Duke Ellington's "New Orleans Suite, two from his "Queen's Suite and three more from Stefan Harris' own "Gardner Meditations, African Tarantella conveys a sincere appreciation for lyrical beauty. Like the original purpose for a tarantella, the music transfixes you with its magic spell. Much of Ellington's music had that quality, and it's not surprising that Harris would dedicate his latest album to such a well-known body of work.
With a nonet that rides high on both various orchestral timbres and jazz combo reflections, Harris delivers a lovely chamber jazz concert that thrills with a peaceful ambience. By its very nature, the vibraphone lends harmonic textures that overlap with forward motion. The room swings and sways calmly as Harris' ensemble provides a soothing landscape made up of segments both familiar and new.
Ellington's "Sunset and the Mockingbird is reinterpreted by the ensemble with a traditional feel. Walking bass, shimmering cymbal and swinging stick action accompany the piano and vibraphone in a crisp aria that dances over and around the mockingbird's call. Here, Harris is at his best.
Ellington's "Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies finds the ensemble in a mellow mood behind Harris' vibraphone, interpreting the piece with a unique character. Flute and vibraphone ride atop the ensemble's placid scene with a subdued presence. Harris' "Dancing Enigma brings a powerful emotional statement to the program with more emotional force than the rest. Here, Harris fulfills the promise issued by the ancient tarantella, as propulsive rhythms shape the suite's lovely lyrical scenery into a full-blown bouquet of vivid blossoms.
Track Listing: Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta; Portrait of Wellman Braid; Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies; Sunset and the Mockingbird; The Single Petal of a Rose; Memoirs of a Frozen Summer; African Tarantella; Dancing Enigma.
Personnel: Stefon Harris: vibraphone, marimba; Xavier Davis: piano; Derrick Hodge: bass; Terreon Gully: drums; Anne Drummond: flute; Greg Tardy: clarinet; Steve Turre: trombone; Jonah Chung: viola; Louise Dublin: cello.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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