Beginnings sounds as if it's guided by an old hand instead of someone relatively new to the demanding art of leading a band. The debut recording of trumpeter Bruce Harris captures a coherent, homogeneous group sound, while utilizing several different combinations of instruments. Harris ties together material ranging from Harold Arlen, to Bud Powell, to Prince, as well as his own originals, and judiciously employs the assorted voices of several soloists who effectively express themselves in only a chorus or two.
Harris' "Ask Questions," Horace Silver's "Mr. Blakey," and Powell's "Una Noche Con Francis" contain gorgeous voicings for three or four horns. The band handles the charts with precision and a sense of purpose that's exhilarating. During the head of Arlen's "Ill Wind," Harris and tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon move around one another like ballroom dancers, as do the trumpeter and tenor saxophonist Andy Farber on Harris' "So Near, So Far." The leader's muted trumpet (which he often employs in a manner as impressive as his work with the open horn) and the rhythm section are all that's needed to animate Russell Faith's and Clarence Kehner's "Snowbound," and Prince's "Do U Lie?"
Pianist Michael Weiss, bassist Clovis Nicolas, and drummer Pete Van Nostrand make for an exemplary rhythm section, one that handles the heads and interacts with the soloists in a knowing, relaxed, utterly supportive manner. Weiss' comping often sounds like it's a part of the solo he's accompanying. There's a particularly impressive chemistry between the pianist and Harris on "Ill Wind" and "Snowbound." Van Nostrand possesses an uncanny ability to place accents and concise fills in exactly the right places and with the appropriate degree of emphasis. In his support of the head of "Una Noche Con Francis," for example, pauses are as important as the strokes.
As a soloist Harris holds his own in the company of players who are, by and large, his senior. He's a raconteur who tells a lucid tale while leaving sufficient open space for the rhythm section to fill in the details. "Una Noche Con Francis" contains Harris' most compelling work with the open horn; "Ill Wind" is the gem of the muted improvisations. On "Ask Questions" and "Una Noche Con Francis," baritone saxophonist Frank Basile's burly, punctilious bebop styling makes for an interesting contrast to alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky's somewhat shadowy, bop-based fare. Weiss' sixteen-bar introduction to Harris' "So Near, So Far" is an exemplar of wisdom, economy and refined swing. Wistful one moment and gruff the next, Farber's "So Near, So Far" solo deftly joins a variety of phrases and covers a lot of ground before reaching a climax.
It's rare that a debut recording succeeds on as many levels as Beginnings. I look forward to hearing more of Bruce Harris' efforts as a leader in the future.
Ask Questions; Ill Wind; Mr. Blakey; Snowbound; The Step; Do U Lie?; Una Noche Con Francis; So Near, So Far.
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