Eddie Harris: Greater Than The Sum Of His Parts

Douglas Payne BY

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Eddie Harris: Greater Than The Sum Of His Parts
Chicago tenor man Eddie Harris (1934-1996) already had nearly a dozen albums and one huge hit single ("Exodus") to his credit when he signed to Atlantic Records in 1965. Over the following 12 years, Atlantic released more than 20 Eddie Harris records. Some of these were innovative (1967's The Electrifying Eddie Harris and 1974's Is It In ), some were sublime (1970's Come On Down, 1973's Excursions and 1976's How Can You Live Like That? ), some were hits (1969's Swiss Movement, with Les McCann) and some were just plain strange (1972's Eddie Harris Sings The Blues and the stand-up comedy of 1975's The Reason I'm Talking S—t ). The rest always had moments of great interest. But, sadly, Eddie Harris never got the attention, recognition or musical respect during his lifetime he sincerely deserved. Critics thought Harris, his playing and his musical pursuits were too eclectic or erratic to merit attention. Then he'd try something unique like attaching a reed piece to a trumpet. And critics cried foul. That's yet more ammunition in the critics’ distrust.

But collections like this excellent 32 Jazz compilation beg to reverse bad thinking like that. Eddie Harris had one of the most distinctive tones on tenor – a pinched cry of joy – and was, undoubtedly, the most characteristic of practitioners on the electrified Varitone sax (which is heard to ample effect on two full LPs included here). His compositions, while usually exploring innovative rhythmic structures, still had catchy hooks. His playing always carried a linear, story-like logic whether he explored the prettier sides of romanticism or the freer sides of the spectrum. And Harris's bands all contained many talented members, often leaders in their own right, that made the reed man sound even better.

This oddly-titled collection contains four full LPs of Harris's worthwhile music: his 1965 Atlantic debut, The In Sound ; the 1966 follow-ups, Mean Greens and The Tender Storm and his sixth Atlantic effort from 1968, Silver Cycles. Rhino has already released the first two LPs in this collection on one CD – as well as a CD of Harris's excellent fourth and fifth Atlantic LPs ( The Electrifying Eddie Harris / Plug Me In ). So, while I'm not sure why we needed a second version of the first two LPs, it's nice to have all four of these Harris gems in one place – at a great price.

Suffice it to say that The In Sound is a solid program of six straight-ahead jazz tracks featuring pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Ron Carter and Billy Higgins. There's the hit-potential movie-theme cover in "Love Theme From 'The Sandpiper'," the wickedly sinewy cover of "Love for Sale" and Harris's standard, "Freedom Jazz Dance" (which bassist Ron Carter brought to boss Miles Davis, who immortalized it in 1966 on his influential Miles Smiles ). Mean Greens adds more soul to the stew, with Sonny Phillips on organ, a bevy of percussionists, and its leader playing electric piano on some tracks. It also provides the template for Harris's next big hit, the funk classic, "Listen Here" (the one that became famous is from Electrifying ).

The Tender Storm returns the group to a standard quartet performing a rather subdued program of soulful pop favorites ("When A Man Loves A Woman") and standards ("My Funny Valentine"). But here, Harris introduces the Varitone sax into his sound, which, surprisingly, does not differ that much from his own personal sound on tenor. Things get much headier on the interesting Silver Cycles. Fellow Chicago native Jodie Christian is now on piano and woodwind and string sections are added. Here, Harris charters new territory. And that famed Harris persona shines through – a funky blend of solid jazz, clever improvisation, soulful, electric grooves and abstract musical notation. Another Harris classic, "1974 Blues" is here as well as the eclectic electric homage, "Coltrane's View." Throughout, Harris gives his Varitone sound a warm personality that does not make it sound as odd or out of place as its electric weirdness might suggest.

Hopefully, Greater Than The Sum Of His Parts will cause greater interest in the late, great Eddie Harris. Perhaps companies like 32 Jazz will release even more of Harris's notable recordings. Excursions, Is It In and How Can You Live Like That should be required listening for all jazz fans. But the music, sound, production and packaging of this tremendous musical collection is superb and recommended to all.

Tracks:Love Theme From "The Sandpiper" (The Shadow Of Your Smile); Born To Be Blue; Love For Sale; Cryin' Blues' 'S Wonderful; Freedom Jazz Dance; Mean Greens; It Was A Very Good Year; Without You; Yeah Yeah Yeah; Listen Here; Blues In The Basement; Goin' Home; When A Man Loves A Woman; My Funny Valentine; The Tender Storm; On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever); A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square; If Ever I Would Leave You; Free At Last; 1974 Blues; Smoke Signals; Coltrane's View; I'm Gonna Leave You By Yourself Silver Cycles; Little Bit; Electric Ballad; Infrapolations.Collective


Collective Eddie Harris: tenor sax, Varitone sax, electric piano; Seldon Powell: woodwinds, baritone sax; Haywood Henry: baritone sax; Philip Bodner: woodwinds; Bennie Powell: trombone, bass trombone; Bernie Glow, Mel Lastie, Joe Newman, Ernie Royal, Snooky Young: trumpet; Cedar Walton, Jodie Christian, Joe Zawinul: piano; Sonny Phillips: organ; Ron Carter, Melvin Jackson, Richard Davis: bass; Monk Montgomery: electric bass; Billy Higgins, Bobby Thomas, Billy Hart, Richard Smith: drums; Bruno Carr, Marcelino Valdez: drums, Latin percussion; Ray Codrington: trumpet, tambourine, percussion; Ray Barretto, Billy Higgins, Bucky Taylor: percussion; Valerie Simpson, Eileen Gilbert, Melba Moore, Martha Stewart: background vocals; Gene Orloff: strings.

Album information

Title: Greater Than The Sum Of His Parts | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: 32 Records

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