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Allan Harris: Live At The Blue LLama

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Allan Harris: Live At The Blue LLama
Allan Harris has had a varied musical journey. Brooklyn-born, he grew up surrounded by the sounds of jazz, blues, and R&B. His mother often played records by artists like Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. These influences shaped his musical sensibilities and inspired him to pursue a music career.

He recorded his debut album, Setting The Standard (Love Records) in 1994 at the age of 38. Over the next 27 years, he released 12 more records of various types of material, including Cross That River (Love Records, 2006), which he composed as a musical look at the history of the African-American cowboy. Another release was The Genius of Eddie Jefferson (Resilience, 2018) with Richie Cole (who was instrumental in Jefferson's late-period revival before the tragic shooting that ended his life). It is a loving tribute to the Godfather of vocalese.

Harris has released albums with big bands and in piano/vocal duos. During the pandemic, he and his tight-knit band gained international recognition for their "Harlem After Dark" live-stream concerts, which brought audiences into Harris' lively living room every Tuesday night. That experience led directly to the decision to record Live At The Blue Llama in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Curated from two shows performed there in January 2023, this release captures the essence of the performer in his natural element.

The first track, "Sunny" shows that Harris stamps his mark on his choice of standards. The pianist, ArcoIris Sandoval, immediately makes an impression on the audience, while Harris croons in a style reminiscent of a mix between Nat King Cole and Al Jarreau. Later, a cover of the Chick Corea/Jarreau version of "Spain" brings home that influence. Irwin Hall shines here on flute with a solo both whimsical and then forceful.

"Jeannine" by Duke Pearson, is done in a pensive, carrying a torch, manner. It provides a different vibe than the Brown Jr or Eddie Jefferson up-tempo versions. As the lyric says, "The dollar signs stood in between, It was a love lost to the rising cost." A Jefferson vocalese version of Miles Davis' "So What" gets a strong reading here. The solos by Sandoval and Hall (on tenor) are on point and appreciated by the rapt audience.

Harris is also an accomplished guitarist, able to play many styles. Here he is heard playing the electric slide guitar on the slow, simmering "Black Coffee Blues." It is an old-style double-entendre-filled blues. Bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Norman Paul Edwards jr lay down the groove while Harris shows off his guitar chops increasing the intensity of his playing until the simmer spills over to a boiling climax.

The album's centerpiece is the closing track "Nature Boy." The standard is played as an up-tempo romp with a wonderful arrangement by Sandoval. His piano playing here is captivating. Harris vamps over the intro, then pushes the song forward before the rest of the band gets their turn in the spotlight.

Over the years, Harris has found his niche as a later-day cabaret singer. It is a time-honored genre that has evolved since Bobby Short reigned supreme at The Carlyle in Manhattan for over three decades. His success in part is twofold. He is a real storyteller, able to traverse many different styles of song. From classic and contemporary jazz, popular standards, blues and originals, his remarkable sense of phrasing, impeccable timing, and wide vocal range allow him to make each song choice his own. The other reason is his innate ability to connect with audiences everywhere. He is as popular in places like Russia, Japan and Turkey as he is at home. It is these abilities that have seen him win the New York Nightlife Award for "Outstanding Jazz Vocalist" three times.

This release provides a current snapshot of what Harris does best; singing live in an intimate setting, accompanied by an empathetic band while performing in front of an adoring audience.

Track Listing

Sunny; Jeannine; New Day; The Very Thought of You; So What?; Black Coffee Blues; Shimmering Deep Blue Sea; Spain; There She Goes; Nature Boy.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Allan Harris: electric slide guitar (6); Irwin Hall: flute (8).

Album information

Title: Live At The Blue LLama | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Love Productions Records


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