331

Stefon Harris & Blackout: Evolution

Eric J. Iannelli By

Sign in to view read count
Stefon Harris & Blackout: Evolution It takes no time at all to get into Evolution , Stefon Harris’ fifth album for Blue Note, the young vibraphonist’s fourth as leader and his first with his new band. Immediately the music breaks into a sprint. And its appeal is equally as instantaneous. There is no acclimation period, no finger-drumming developmental warm-up, no amusing 30-second intro track. So it’s funny that this disc should bear the title Evolution , by all Darwinian or Lamarckian accounts an excruciatingly slow transformative process. But this, it seems, is the point Harris wants to make. Jazz music—even his own—has been swimming in the ooze of heady theory and generic territory-staking long enough. It’s high time an observable change took place.

Blackout, Harris’ fresh line-up (named thus because they are “about blacking out the narrow views surrounding and constricting the definition of jazz”), is notably well suited to such a task. Don Grolnick’s “Nothing Personal” is transformed into a fleet-footed groove featuring Marc Cary’s soulful keyboard licks, which are at times reminiscent of Baby Face Willette. Harris contributes a radiant vibe line to match that of saxophonist Casey Benjamin. Darryl Hall raps out a tight, thumping funk on his acoustic bass. The energy is clearly that of classic hard bop, but the sound is utterly contemporary.

The Gershwin standard “Summertime” is hazy, soporific, a bit like what you might expect from an electro-lounge DJ. In strictly jazz terms, it’s closer in execution to Charlie Parker’s lolling renditions than Trane’s skittish version of the same from My Favorite Things. Elsewhere we come to a lullaby cover of Sting’s “Until”—a quiet declaration that everything from the popular to the esoteric is fair game in this evolutionary quest. Original compositions include the jaunty, freewheeling title track and “King Tut’s Strut,” something like a ride aboard an ancient Egyptian starship. Particularly striking is the exotic sway of “For Him, For Her,” during which Harris sounds out a slow-burning marimba romance atop the undulating rhythmic structure provided by drummer Terreon Gully and percussionist Pedro Martinez.

Listeners may agree that Evolution is what Harris’ sprawling, overly ambitious The Grand Unification Theory (2003) was trying to be; or perhaps should have been. It’s more than just an issue of titular semantics. Evolution amalgamates a number of widely varying genres and performance styles, yet it sounds so seamless, cohesive and—well, unified—as to be cut from the same bolt of musical cloth. Using an instrumentation that is by no means unusual, it brings together the most distinctive and valuable characteristics found in the whole of jazz and beyond. This was precisely what its predecessor lacked. And if natural selection has its way, this disc will be one worth keeping for posterity.


Track Listing: Nothing Personal; For Him, For Her; Until; Red-Bone, Netti-Bone; A Touch of Grace; Summertime; Blackout; The Lost Ones; King Tut's Strut' Message to Mankind; Montara.

Personnel: Stefon Harris: vibraphone, marimba; Casey Benjamin: alto saxophone (1, 2, 3-7, 9); Marc Cary: Fender Rhodes and keyboards (1, 2, 4-9); Darryl Hall: acoustic bass; Terreon Gully: drums; Anne Drummond: flute and alto flute, Xavier Davis: piano and Fender Rhodes (3, 10); Pedro Martinez: percussion, vocals (9).

Title: Evolution | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Developing Story CD/LP/Track Review Developing Story
by Edward Blanco
Published: June 26, 2017
Read Lantern CD/LP/Track Review Lantern
by John Kelman
Published: June 26, 2017
Read Inspirations (featuring Matthew Halsall) CD/LP/Track Review Inspirations (featuring Matthew Halsall)
by Phil Barnes
Published: June 26, 2017
Read Unification CD/LP/Track Review Unification
by Troy Dostert
Published: June 26, 2017
Read Crossing CD/LP/Track Review Crossing
by Geno Thackara
Published: June 25, 2017
Read Unit[e] CD/LP/Track Review Unit[e]
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 25, 2017
Read "Sedimental You" CD/LP/Track Review Sedimental You
by John Sharpe
Published: March 30, 2017
Read "Blow + Beat" CD/LP/Track Review Blow + Beat
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 8, 2017
Read "Happy Madness" CD/LP/Track Review Happy Madness
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 7, 2017
Read "Journey To The Mountain Of Forever" CD/LP/Track Review Journey To The Mountain Of Forever
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: June 17, 2017
Read "The Final Concert" CD/LP/Track Review The Final Concert
by John Sharpe
Published: February 19, 2017
Read "A Zoology of the Future" CD/LP/Track Review A Zoology of the Future
by Glenn Astarita
Published: July 31, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.