All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

525

Stefon Harris: African Tarantella: Dances with Duke

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Given the number of tribute albums coming out these days, it's refreshing to see an artist reference lesser-known works and take a road less-travelled in terms of approach. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris' African Tarantella enlists a streamlined instrumental configuration to rework excerpts from Duke Ellington's 1970 "The New Orleans Suite" and 1958 "The Queen's Suite," along with parts of his own commissioned "The Garner Meditations." The result is less cerebral than The Grand Unification Theory (Blue Note, 2003), but no less ambitious.

The Grand Unification Theory was a sweeping work stylistically—an impressive disc that left some listeners in the cold after his more approachable Blue Note releases A Cloud of Red Dust (1998) and BlackActionFigure (1999). For the past couple of years he's toured significantly on the heels of Evolution (2004) with his fusion-centric group Blackout, which has found him just as capable of a visceral groove as headier pursuits. African Tarantella, while unequivocally a mainstream record, is the happy marriage of both, making it his strongest effort to date.

When you've got the right people, you can do anything. Drummer Terreon Gully and bassist Derrick Hodge—Harris' Blackout bandmates—have emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, in the past couple of years, to be a highly flexible rhythm team. They're capable of more traditional swing on "Portrait of Wellman Braud," but on "Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta," Gully's light but modernistic backbeat updates Ellington for the new millennium.

That's not, however, the only piece that illustrates Ellington's timeless potential. With a nonet featuring piano, trombone, flute, clarinet, viola and cello, Harris contemporizes Ellington harmonically, creating a distinctive textural alternative to Ellington's horn-heavy arrangements. There are enough instruments here to respect the crux of Ellington's work, but it feels lighter and more open-ended. On "The Single Petal of a Rose" Harris is accompanied only by Hodge, and this simultaneous mix of vibes and marimba makes for one of the disc's high points—respecting the original, but displaying an even greater sense of calm.

Harris' voice is the most dominant on the recording, but there are opportunities for others to shine as well. Greg Tardy's solo on "Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta" positions him as one of the most important clarinettists to emerge since Don Byron. While mostly arranged, Anne Drummond's lush flute dominates Harris' own balladic "Memoirs of a Frozen Summer," while pianist Xavier Davis' solo on the up-tempo but never hurried title track suggests that he is—like many of the players in the ensemble—a relatively young talent worth watching.

The trick to successful homage is reverence that remains personal. Between new arrangements of existing work and his own compositional contributions, Harris has created an album that pays tribute to a clear source of inspiration but also goes to places that Ellington might never have imagined.


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.

Title: African Tarantella: Dances With Duke | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Dat Dere

Dat Dere

Stefon Harris
Sonic Creed

Catching Up With
Multiple Reviews
Interviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Live Reviews
Read more articles
Sonic Creed

Sonic Creed

Motéma Music
2018

buy
Ninety Miles

Ninety Miles

Concord Picante
2011

buy
Urbanus

Urbanus

Concord Music Group
2009

buy
African Tarantella: Dances With Duke

African Tarantella:...

Blue Note Records
2006

buy
Evolution

Evolution

Blue Note Records
2004

buy
The Grand Unification Theory

The Grand Unification...

Blue Note Records
2003

buy

Related Articles

Read Fearless And Kind CD/LP/Track Review
Fearless And Kind
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: November 14, 2018
Read 25th Anniversary Project CD/LP/Track Review
25th Anniversary Project
by Jack Bowers
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Any Day Now CD/LP/Track Review
Any Day Now
by Mark Sullivan
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Adrift CD/LP/Track Review
Adrift
by Roger Farbey
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Folkjazz from Finland CD/LP/Track Review
Folkjazz from Finland
by Anthony Shaw
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Circulate Susanna CD/LP/Track Review
Circulate Susanna
by Karl Ackermann
Published: November 13, 2018
Read "Improcreations" CD/LP/Track Review Improcreations
by Tyran Grillo
Published: February 2, 2018
Read "Invisible Threads" CD/LP/Track Review Invisible Threads
by Samuel Stroup
Published: January 24, 2018
Read "Arise!" CD/LP/Track Review Arise!
by Chris May
Published: April 24, 2018
Read "Live at Kolarac" CD/LP/Track Review Live at Kolarac
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: December 18, 2017
Read "Puerto de Buenos Aires 1933" CD/LP/Track Review Puerto de Buenos Aires 1933
by Troy Dostert
Published: April 15, 2018
Read "Dreams" CD/LP/Track Review Dreams
by Jerome Wilson
Published: January 7, 2018