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Barry Harris: Magnificent!

Derek Taylor By

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Despite the suspicious absence of modesty in the title of this disc this is one trio that definitely lives up to their chosen moniker. One tour through the eight tunes that these three players hew to their own devices is all that’s necessary to discover that their contention is no idle boast. Harris is the comparative veteran of the group. A consummate keyboardist, Harris rose to maturity during the bumpy birth of bebop out of swing. As a result his enterprising style is heavily steeped in both genres. Carter and Williams are products of a slightly later era but are no less informed by these historically absonant origins and sound perfectly in tune with Harris’ traditionalist vision for the session.

With Harris at the helm the trio ranges over some scintillating improvisational topography. From the up-tempo swing of Coleman Hawkins’ “Bean and the Boys” to the relaxed romance of “Rouge” Harris’ keys design a thoroughly appealing display of brilliant piano technique. The inclusion of two Charlie Parker tunes alongside a handful of his own originals suggests that Harris was intent on remaining true to his past influences. Carter and Williams stick to standard piano trio etiquette and their contributions are mainly relegated to a supportive stance. The light amplification of Carter’s strings adds even more depth to his usual supple bass lines and William’s temperate touch with his sticks never slips into bombastic excess. The closing reading of “Dexterity” affords both players the room to solo.

What is perhaps most unusual about this session is the time in which it was recorded. 1969 was a banner year for proponents of fusion and soul jazz. An album of more traditionally crafted piano jazz must have seemed like something of an anomalous throwback. No doubt it served as a welcome respite for listeners seeking refuge from the electrically-infused sounds that were all the rage back then and can just as easily serve in the same capacity today.


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.

Title: Magnificent! | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Prestige Records

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