Craig Harris returns with an ambitious, fully-realized project composed to commemorate the centennial of W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folks. Recruiting ten of the strongest voices playing today, including Steve Coleman, Hamiet Bluiett, Oliver Lake and Don Byron, Harris creates a powerful suite recorded live over two CDs. Twelve years have elapsed since Harris' last recorded solo project, during which time he actively participated in numerous multimedia performance pieces as composer, performer, conceptualist, curator and artistic director. A veteran of Sun Ra, David Murray, Muhal Richard Abrams, Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and Henry Threadgill, Harris delivers an eminently listenable work that inspires, uplifts and satisfies.
The ensemble blows mellow for a velvety opening statement by Harris on "The Veil." Byron keeps it all blues, then Cecil McBee and Billy Hart support Coleman's flight, which is looser than his ensemble work. Byron soars on clarinet, generating applause mid-solo. Hart duets with Kahil El'Zabar's hand drumming to introduce "The Color Line." Graham Haynes paints incisive lines through burning rhythms and smeary horns. After Coleman bubbles lava, Harris sprays flame, then Lake throws an incendiary devicehis alto.
A low-key ensemble opens the second CD with "Double Consciousness," supporting a soulful bass clarinet workout that Byron pushes beyond the upper range. Haynes restores order on "The Talented Tenth" until Coleman burns through, then Harris joins for a brief duet. "Seldom a Word," turns a gospel page with Harris and McBee testifying. McBee's deep arco cues more brilliance from Bluiett, who continues a capella into "TestiMoan Tro 2."
"TestiMoan Tro 3" belongs to Coleman, who makes it a lyrical stroll. His lovely variations segue into "City of a Hundred Hills," a swing ensemble piece driven by Hart and McBee's deceptively light touch. Hugh Ragin takes over with scorching brass, then hands off to McBee's popping dextrous bass. Harris provides a thoughtful coda with plunger mute on "A Tale Twice Told."
While Harris has been in creative overdrive for years, Souls Within the Veil argues strongly for more thorough documentation of this artist's vision.
Veil; Color Line; Strange Land of Shadows; Second Sight; TestiMoan
Tro 1; Bone of the Bone & Flesh of the Flesh; Double Consciousness; Talented Tenth;
Seldom a Word; TestiMoan Tro 2; More Ancient Than Words; TestiMoan Tro 3; City
of a Hundred Hills; Tale Twice Told.
Craig Harris: trombone, didjeridoo; Kahil El'Zabar: percussion; Graham
Haynes: cornet; Billy Hart: drums; Oliver Lake, Steve Coleman: alto saxophone; Cecil
McBeebass; Hugh Ragin: trumpet; Hamiet Bluiett: baritone saxophone; Don Byron: clarinet.