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An unaccompanied bass solo by Zachary Pride precedes Winard Harper showing off on his drums wearing an unusual Ghanian vest jacket with primitive markings and a gold and black prayer cap on the opening number of the first set at the Jazz Standard on Tuesday, November 7th, 2000. Pianist Nick Rolfe joins in comping, hand percussionist Kevin Jones surprises us with his dexterity before Brian Horton and Patrick Rickman overlay a unison tenor flugelhorn statement on the Buster Williams tune “Tokudo”. Winard leans back so far that you would think he was going to fall backwards but he’s just reaching for inspiration that comes as consistent drum rolls that turn around his solo into the head. “Now, by George Cables is, “Circles” from our recent Savant release”. This moderate tempo piece has a lot going on and Brian Horton’s tenor is almost melodic with that sharp/flat tone that’s consistent with the contemporary scene but still clone-ish. Acapella, on a black and bronze trumpet, Patrick Rickman expounds on Bobby Timmons “Moanin’ by reminding us of all those sounds first heard played on the first jazz recording “Livery Stable Blues”, but it’s only an intro to this blues - full of stop-time and plunger mute moans & flares. During Nick’s piano solo the band clapped in unison on each back-beat, then it was back to the head done softly, softer, quieter until all we could hear were the wind instrumentalists breathing. Quite captivating and an effective ending to a superb number that must be seen to be enjoyed. “Ten years ago I saw “BLACK & BLUE” on Broadway and knew that I wanted to work with Carrie Smith, Mr. Harper announced, “a Georgia gal like many in my band please make welcome, Miss. Carrie Smith”. The tempo is fast and Miss. Carrie Smith (as she likes to be known) picks up “What A Little Moonlight Can Do For You”, right on the first “Ooo, Ooo, Ooo”. Her plaintive rendition of “Someday, You’ll Come Along, ‘The Man I Love’”, (she reveals is autobiographical), then in a rich contralto she enunciates a more swinging lyrical, smiling rendition than you would imagine Billy Holiday singing. Winard is visibly happy listening plus playing, establishing a pleasurable ambience that’s contagious. Surprisingly, Carrie segues on the final word “Love”, into, “I Loves You, Porgy”, at a mood changing slow tempo that again captivates this opening night audience. Returning for an encore, we hear “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”, the Gospel anthem and a hand clapper with an infectious back-beat that includes a Patrick Rickman trumpet solo reflecting any Basie band trumpeter.
Although it’s more than an hour into this set Winard takes center stage on Baliphone, a wooden xylophone that he plays with two short rubber-tipped wooden mallets giving us a 15 minute ensemble of repetitive African rhythms sounding like the rarely used keys at the top of a piano.
Winard Harper has brought together a select group of musicians who can render many styles allowing this audience to enjoy the scope of musical ability. Carrie Smith only added more approachability to Winard Harper’s ensemble.