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Alex Harding's Blutopia: The Calling / Lucian Ban & Asymmetry Quartet: Playground

Jeff Stockton By

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Alex Harding's Blutopia
The Calling
Jazzaway
2005

Alex Harding (Detroit) and Lucian Ban (Romania) have developed a fruitful partnership over the last few years. Harding's bluesy, church-steeped baritone sax is the logical heir to Hamiet Bluiett's, while Ban's tasteful, reflective piano playing combines the elegance and technical precision of the European classical tradition with wide-ranging musical interests and a passion for improvisation.

Backed by bassist Brad Jones and drummer Nasheet Waits, Harding is the nominal leader on The Calling, and while half the writing credit is Ban's, the band's sound benefits from Harding's bass clarinet on the pianist's "Estonia and his own arrangement of the traditional "Shades of Ellegua. On "Cultural Warrior, Harding's baritone is a caress, while on "Southern Dawn, a Ban composition that gets to these players' roots, Harding builds his dirtiest, most impressive solo. "Spirit Take My Hand leaves too early, fading out on a beat that Waits lays down at the finish.


Lucian Ban & Asymmetry Quartet
Playground
Jazzaway
2005

Harding sits out for Playground, a recording by the Asymmetry Quartet, which features veteran alto player and native of Panama Jorge Sylvester. Drummer Derrek Phillips ignites the opening take of "Hieroglyphics, and he and bassist Jones provide sensitive backing for Ban and Sylvester to shimmer on "Gentle Shifts Rain and "Silence. Sylvester is a gorgeously melodic player whose tone can be light as a feather on ballads, particularly on the delicate "For Giuffre. Even on up-tempo numbers, Sylvester is as frothy as hand-whipped cream on its way to butter; he and Ban churn on the title track.

In addition to Ban's pairing with Alex Harding and his work with Asymmetry, his bio indicates several other active projects and more recordings in the works. He's a prolific composer, generous with his sidemen and not content simply to work again and again with the same lineup. We should be thankful for Lucian Ban's abundant imagination.


Tracks and Personnel

The Calling

Tracks: The Calling; Cultural Warrior; Quirky; Spirit Take My Hand; Estonia; Sketch; Southern Dawn; Blast; Shades of Ellegua.

Personnel: Alex Harding: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Lucian Ban: piano; Brad Jones: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums; Andrew Daniels: percussion.

Playground

Tracks: Hieroglyphics; Gentle Shifts Rain; Playground; Symmetry; For Giuffre; Travelin' with Ra; Silence; Go For It!; Asymmetry.

Personnel: Lucian Ban: piano; Jorge Sylvester: alto sax; Brad Jones: bass; Derrek Phillips: drums.


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