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Donald Harrison: Heroes

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Ron Carter, one of altoist Donald Harrison's heroes and the primary bassist on this recording, makes the point that Harrison comes from New Orleans, but doesn't insist that he does. Harrison approaches his tradition with a pure heart, and from his apprenticeship with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the mid '80s through his own leadership in the '90s, he has evolved an historical idiom into an absolutely contemporary, individual style.

The title track kicks things off in the searching, striving style of a Wayne Shorter composition, with Harrison's other hero, Billy Cobham, clicking away on his cymbals, and Harrison's tone a bit edgier than elsewhere, accentuating the song's feeling of pursuit. Nothing else in the trio format, or in duet with Carter, reaches this level of urgency. The order of the day is swing and hard bop, with touches of Charlie Parker in the "I Got Rhythm" chords of "Double Trouble" and the Monk-like "Blues for the New Millennium," where Harrison's horn sounds more like a soprano aimed at the snake in the basket.

Carter's bass is the dominant supporting voice on Heroes, offering a beautifully tasteful extended solo on a duet version of "My Funny Valentine," where you find yourself singing the words along with Harrison's perfectly rendered lead, and on "Solar," where Carter establishes a rapid tempo and Harrison keeps joyous pace. On "Candlelight," the album's most impressive cut, Harrison caresses the keys gently and romantically, subtly shifting tempo as if he were approaching his date seated on the couch, first suavely relaxed, then impatient, then with his composure regained.

Heroes closes with three "bonus tracks" featuring a different trio with Vicente Archer on bass and John Lamkin on drums. With these two, the beats are heavier and the bass lines funkier. Lamkin hits hard on "Free Style," he and Archer handle the second-line rhythms of "Iko Iko" deftly, and Harrison's alto is as warm and sweet as peppermint liqueur. I realize Carter and Cobham are the stars of the show, but these two tracks along with the funky dip of a final "Well You Needn't" leave me looking forward to Harrison's next genre-stretching offering with his usual bandmates.

Track Listing: Heroes; Blues for the New Millennium; My Funny Valentine; One of a Kind; Double Trouble; Receipt Please; Candlelight; Solar
Bonus tracks: Free Style; Iko Iko; Straight No Chaser

Personnel: Donald Harrison (alto saxophone), Ron Carter (bass), Billy Cobham (drums), Vincent Archer (bass on "Free Style," "Iko Iko," "Straight No Chaser"), John Lamkin (drums on "Free Style," "Iko Iko," "Straight No Chaser")

Title: Heroes | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Nagel Heyer Records

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