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By the time pianist Barry Harris recorded his first session as a leader in 1958, Breakin' It Up for the Argo label, Charlie Parker had already been dead for three years and the be-bop movement that he had helped usher in was already giving way to the more visceral advance of hard bop and the beginning strains of Ornette Coleman's "new thing" approach. For Harris, who was a died-in-the-wool be-bopper, this meant coming on the scene a bit too late to be part of the music that had inspired his own jazz quest. Subsequently, while Harris' love of the be-bop language in no way makes him a one-trick pony, his style has somewhat limited his range of expression over the years.
Coming off a string of Riverside releases that tended to possess a nagging feeling of sameness, Harris was to fare much better with his series of Prestige recordings. He added horns for his first two efforts, Luminescence and Bull's Eye, a move that seemed to broaden his musical palette. Then in 1969 at the end of his tenure with the label, Harris would return to the trio format, but with a more mature outlook. While the hyperbole involved in the album's title may border a bit on overstatement, the newly-reissued Magnificent easily ranks among Harris's better and most realized trio dates.
There's much that is attractive about this set because even among the expected bop tunes like "Dexterity" and "Ah-Leu-Cha," we get such notable Harris originals as "You Sweet and Fancy Lady" (one of his best-known pieces), "Just Open Your Heart," and the Latin-tinged "Sun Dance." Ron Carter and drummer Leroy Williams form a well-oiled team with ample support and choice solo spots of their own. Although Harris continues to be a strong and committed performer, his Prestige period still holds special treasures of which Magnificent happily belongs.
Track Listing: Bean and the Boys/ You Sweet and Fancy Lady/ Rouge/ Ah-Leu-Cha/ Just Open Your Heart/ Sun Dance/ These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)/ Dexterity. Recorded: November 25, 1969, RCA Studios, NYC.
Personnel: Barry Harris- piano; Ron Carter- double bass; Leroy Williams- drums.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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