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The Bill Harris Quintet: Inside-Out

Edward Blanco By

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Portland, Oregon saxophonist Bill Harris is an educator, sideman and member of organist Steve Hall Quintet when not leading his own band. Growing up listening to jazz masters Sonny Stitt, John Coltrane and Phil Woods among others, he began playing woodwinds while in second grade and has favored the alto and tenor saxophones ever since. Though a veteran of the Portland, Oregon jazz scene since 1964, Inside-Out is his first outing as leader, an amazing top-notch recording of post-bop material that shines all over.

The album is one of those hidden gems sparkling with sensational renditions of jazz standards from Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, Harold Arlen and others. With stellar arrangements from Hall, the disc boasts nine classic standards and a single original ("Boston After Dark") penned by Harris when he taught at Boston's Berklee College of Music decades ago. The music is outstanding, the band, is just as impressive. Harris brings together four players with national reputations and, after one sampling of the album, it's clear why.

Trumpeter and flugelhornist Paul Mazzio was a sideman for Tony Bennett and a member of Woody Herman's renowned Thundering Herd, while pianist George Mitchell spent 30 years with Diana Ross and as a sideman with saxophonist Sonny Stitt. Bassist Dave Captein has worked with jazz greats Jack Sheldon and the late Bud Shank among others, while longtime drummer Dick Berk has performed with everyone from Billie Holiday and Charles Mingus to Freddie Hubbard and Brazilian vibraphonist Cal Tjader.

With an approach reminiscent of Phil Woods, Harris peels off the first of many sizzling alto solos on the opening "You're My Everything," sharing the spotlight with Mazzio, Mitchell and Captein on a dazzling bop-infused rendition of this timeless classic. Gary Burton once used Victor Assis Brasil's obscure "Profiles" in a Berklee Jazz improvisation class attended by Harris, who copied the changes and has used it ever since. The boppish flair of the set continues with Harris's tenor voice on "I Hear A Rhapsody" and Clare Fischer's "We'll Be Together Again."

The bossa-flavored "Pensativa," is the defining pieces of the disc, featuring Harris and crew glowing with incredible solos. The music is of apparent significance to the saxophonist for both his record label and website are titled after this Fischer song. Harris' alto continues to sing on Harold Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee" and takes to a softer, slower tempo on Tadd Dameron's soulful ballad, "Soultrane." Closing with a strong statement on Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie," Harris emerges as a voice to be reckoned with in a solid performance and an impressive debut that should have the critics buzzing and audiences clamoring for more. Lending an exciting new sound to a host of familiar jazz standards, Harris may well turn the jazz world Inside-Out with this compelling first outing.

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