Donald Harrison is one of the most confident and convincing improvisers in jazz today. The boundary leaping New Orleans alto saxophonist's distinctive broad toned sound is immediately recognizable as his own, regardless of the environment in which it is being heard, be it bebop, hard bop, New Orleans R & B or funk. Harrison has managed to forge his variegated influences and extensive experience into a uniquely personal style. These discs feature the Art Blakey alumnus with two different groups - one comprised of three capable, comparatively young newcomers; the other with a pair of seasoned veterans. On both dates the altoist's creativity is commanding.
Free Style is, as its title implies, Harrison's amalgamation of jazz improvisation with funky hip hop rhythms. The youthful accompanying trio of pianist Glen Patscha, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer John Lamkin is well suited to the contemporary music, the melodic and harmonic simplicity of which allows the leader ample space to improvise freely. The disc opens with "Hand Jive (not the credited Tony Williams composition from the Miles Davis Nefertiti album but the Johnny Otis rock 'n' roll classic). Harrison transforms the popular piece, taking it uncharacteristically soft and slow, with Patscha's moody chords altering it to more of a dirge. The Harrison composed title track, a spare trio dance with the altoist getting down on top of Archer's insistent bass line and Lamkin's steady drumbeat, lives up to its rap influenced name. "New Hope is an exquisitely beautiful ode to optimism by the quartet. "Get Your Swerve, another funky trio performance, has some interesting twists, while the quartet's soulful interpretation of "So What is an alto tour de force played over a backbeat. The collectively composed "Rock Song, covers of "Well You Needn't and "Iko Iko and Harrison's "Free To Be follow similar routes. The disc is filled out with two pieces from Harrison's Heroes CDworthwhile alternate takes of that date's title track and Ron Carter's "Candlelight.
New York Cool: Live at the Blue Note
Carter and Billy Cobham join Harrison on New York Cool, a landmark disc for the saxophonist, recorded live at the Blue Note. The date is a model of creative construction and group dynamics on which the absence of a chordal instrument only serves to emphasize the three musicians' individual and collective strengths. Harrison and Cobham begin "Body and Soul as a duo, so that when Carter comes in on top of the bossa beat the group sounds larger than the trio it is. The band burns through the rhythm changes of "Harrisburg Address, a line by the leader reminiscent of "The Theme from his Jazz Messengers days. The bluesy minimalism of "Easy Living hearkens to Ornette while "I'll Remember April and "Star Eyes boppishly speak to Bird. Carter's "Third Plane is truly a modern masterpiece and Harrison's closing down home "Blues For Happy People is a pure and simple pleasure. The satisfied audience's screaming ovation says it all.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Hand Jive; Free Style; New Hope; Get Your Swerve; So What; Rock Song; Well You Needn't; Iko Iko; Free to Be; Heroes; Candlelight
Personnel: Donald Harrison: alto saxophone; Glen Patscha: piano (1,3,5); Vicente Archer: bass; John Lamkin: drums. On bonus tracks: Ron Carter: bass (10,11); Billy Cobham: drums (10,11).
New York Cool
Tracks: Body and Soul; Harrisburg Address; Easy Living; I'll Remember April; Star Eyes; Third Plane; Blues for Happy People.
Personnel: Donald Harrison: alto saxophone; Ron Carter: bass; Billy Cobham: drums.