CD Reviews: Stories Real and Incomplete


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Stories in Real Time - Darryl Harper (HiPNOTIC) - There is nothing more exciting for a reviewer/listener to discover an artist that makes such a positive impression on first listen. Though this is clarinetist/composer Darryl Harper's 5th CD as a leader, it's the first time for me and this is one fine project.

Born in Philadelphia, PA (a city with a great jazz heritage), Harper has been a professional musician since he was 16.  He's opened for the late Max Roach, The Billy Taylor Trio, and The Wynton Marsalis Quartet.  He's performed in the ensembles of saxophonists Tim Warfield and Roscoe Mitchell, vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, and pianist Uri Caine as well as spending 2 years working with violinist Regina Carter.  Harper has earned degrees from Amherst College, Rutgers University, and New England Conservatory and is currently on the faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Stories..“ opens with “Saints and Sinners“, a 6-part original work that blends the poetry of Terence Culleton with a hard-edged rhythm section (pianist Lefteris Kordis, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Harry “Butch" Reed), 4 clarinets (Harper, Alec Speigelman, Kenny Pexton and Brian Landrus) and the voice of Marianne Solivan. Different moods are on display on the first 4 sections (all short) from the “cool blues" of “Bone“ to the abstract “cool" of St. Minim“ to the Annie Ross-like jazz of “St. Dentwood's Confession“  to “The Novitiate“ (sounding like a continuation of “St. Minim".)  Reed's soft yet propulsive drum intro leads the listener into section V, “The Secret“ that features a great bass solo and an expressive vocal.  The suite ends on a more “open" feel, starting slowly with voice and clarinet before the rest of the group enters, first the clarinets, then the rhythm section and the piece takes off with clarinet lines whirling around each other until a soft landing (save for the short clarinet cadenza.)

The remainder of the program features commissions from Ken Schaphorst, Roland Davis, and Sunggone Hwang, as well as pieces by Landrus, an adaption of gospel composer Horace Boyer's “A Prayer“ (featuring a fine vocal from Solivan), and 2 more works by Harper (including the highly danceable “Tore Up.")  Schaphorst's “Magnolia“ is a stunning work for the 4 clarinets, an evocative piece that has its roots in blues yet moves easily through different sections.  Davis's “Tilant, Zare, Nege (Ethiopia: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow") brings back the rhythm section for a multi-sectioned work that blends modern elements into traditional African rhythms.  Hwang's “Suite for Jazz (Swing, Blues, Walking Bass") is a lovely, sometimes lively, piece for the 4 clarinets that may remind some of the work of the World Saxophone Quartet in how easily the musicians move from section to section and how their individual voices come together to paint a soulful picture.

There's more to “Stories in Real Time“ than one review can tell you.  I highly recommend that you sit and listen to this fine recording, that you begin to see how Darryl Harper has created an “audio book" with chapters that make you smile, make you think, that make want to come back to time and again to let the the sonorous clarinets of “Magnolia“ wash over your mind.  For more information, go to darrylharper.com.

Coming Together - Chris Potter, Steve Wilson, Terell Stafford, Delbert Felix, John Davis & Keith Javors (Inarhyme Records) - This fine CD was originally intended to be the debut recording of saxophonist/composer Brendan Romanek.  A native of Colchester, CT, Romanek played with the Bacon Academy High School Band then off to Santa Barbara City College before going on to complete his degree at the University of North Florida.

At UNF, he studied with alto saxophonist Bunky Green and pianist/composer Keith Javors.  Following graduation, Romanek attended the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center and, in the spring of 2005, accepted a teaching assistantship at the University of Tennessee/Knoxville. Tragically, before his career began (and 2 weeks after his 24th birthday), Brendan Romanek was killed in a traffic accident.  He had already been preparing music for his debut recording and 8 weeks after his passing, the sessions that resulted in “Coming Together“ took place in Florida.

Knowing all that, this music is highly charged, quite emotional but never maudlin.  The first 6 tracks feature the quartet of Potter (tenor and soprano saxophones), Felix (bass), Davis (drums) and Javors (piano.)  “My Shining Hour“, a trio track minus the pianist, scoots right along on the power of the rhythm section and Potter's energetic solo.  “Dream Behind the Moon“ is the first of 7 Romanek compositions and is impressive for its handsome melody and dynamic variations.  Javors' piano work is exemplary, not just supportive but as counterpoint to Potter's fine tenor work.  Potter moves to soprano for the funky and sly “3 Steps Ahead of the Spider“, with its catchy melody and slippery rhythms.  “You'll Never Know“, a mature ballad that could have been written by the soulful Ashford & Simpson, also features Potter's sweet and soaring soprano work.

Wilson (soprano and alto saxophone) and Stafford (trumpet, flugelhorn) join the rhythm section for the remaining 5 tracks.  The latter's rousing trumpet work displays great power on the title track and sets the stage for Wilson's bluesy alto spotlight - the track also features exciting drum work from Davis (who had played with Romanek in the UNF Jazz Band.) “Minion“ is a moody yet open piece that features more strong piano work and expressive drumming and a stunning section in which Wilson and Stafford dance around each other and over a rampaging rhythm section.

There are 2 duets on the program and both standards.  Potter and Javors explore the contemplative side of “Nancy With The Laughing Face“, the track opening with a sweet piano cadenza before the tenor introduces the melody.  The duo play with the tempo and both push the piece in interesting directions. Wilson joins the pianist for a lovely take of “Killing Me Softly With His Song“ - in this instance, it's the lovely soprano sax introducing the song before Javors joins to read the melody.

The truly sad thing about this fine CD is that Brendan Romanek is not sharing the spotlight with Javors and company, not trading solos with Terell Stafford or flying above the energetic rhythm section.  Certainly, the musicians felt his spirit in the studio and his original works showed great promise.  “Coming Together“ is a celebration in the midst of an inexplicable tragedy, living music that transcends sorrow.  For more information, go to inarhymerecords.com.

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This story appears courtesy of See! Hear! by Richard Kamins.
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