Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Stefon Harris Quartet

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Performance Space at the Wexner Center For The Arts
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio

Stefon Harris may be the most athletic jazz vibraphonist performing today.
Bobby Hutcherson? Well, he plays with a majestic assuredness as he presides over the instrument's beauty that he releases.
Gary Burton? A vision of serenity and courtesy on stage, Burton seems almost statuesque—until his arms and hands are unsprung into a dazzling flurry, the vibes applied to unlikely genres like tango or fusion.
Terry Gibbs? He puckishly delights in bringing swing references to his rapid-fire riffs and mischief.

Even Lionel Hampton, irrepressible and forever dancing behind the instrument in his heyday, never exhibited the aggressiveness and intensity of attack that Harris pursues. While Hampton scampered and swung, Harris flanks and dodges and visibly considers the musical potential of the instrument before malleting his prey into tuneful alliance.

The Performance Space at Ohio State's Wexner Center approximates a nightclub in its intimacy, informality, darkness, absolute respect for the performer and acoustical rightness, despite its containment within an arts center/museum. On June 8, the Stefon Harris Quartet maximized that Space's effectiveness to wow the audience with not only musical, but also visual, entertainment, albeit unintentional.

As if a single vibraphone offered insufficient width for the Black Action Figure's personal requirements for performance space, the stage crew had set up the vibes and marimba side by side—almost 12 feet of bars and resonators and framework—so that Harris (as usual in black slacks and shirt) could leap and lurk and finally burst into angular phrases and suddenly silent pauses that contrasted with ripples of percussive feeling.

While horns joined Harris on his two Blue Note CD's—not to mention some of his New Directions associates like Jason Moran and Greg Osby-at the Wexner Center, he led his own quartet consisting of Orrin Evans on piano, Reid Anderson on bass, and Terreon Gully on drums. Even though Anderson joined the group only two months before, its tightness and mutual support were evident. Visible expressions of pleasure showed as the other three were particularly inspired by a soloist's groove or by the aptness of an idea.

"A Cloud Of Red Dust" started as a hardly perceptible vibed whisper, barely able to whip up even a breeze, and it began to break into a quarter-noted underlying pulse, when—bleet!—the emergency exit alarm interrupted the tune with ear-shattering intensity. Recovering from the incipient chaos, the quartet grinningly and freely portrayed the mayhem with immediately inspired, empirically induced improvisation. The alarm ceased as suddenly as it commenced, and "A Cloud Of Red Dust" recovered from the unanticipated extremes of calm soundscapes to technologically glitched confusion.

Only after the group eased again into the red cloud did the impressionistic use of the marimba become clear. Picked up by six microphones, both instruments offered extended and distinct sonic possibilities that Harris wanted to explore. Rather than indulging in "xylophonics" (a term I just now coined to describe the use of the xylophone or marimba for comical or common entertaining effects), Harris enlarged the potential of the instrument in unexpected combination with the vibraphone.

As the "Cloud Of Red Dust" receded, Harris and Evans settled into a sustained vamp as Harris for the first time in the evening used four mallets. A glimmer of a tune emerged, and sure enough, even before the melody was stated, "Summertime" unfolded.

Following up on the glowing reassurance of that tune, the quartet glided into "Collage," from the CD "Black Action Figure." Bassist Anderson provided a sensitive hint of the tune to come by dexterously funneling an expanse of intervallic elaborations down into a concentrated ¾ rhythm before the group came in.

"There Is No Greater Love" seemed at first to be an extended drummed improvisational composition, Gully varying pitches and accenting the theme with cymballed shimmers. Until...

...Gully started a conversation with Harris, Gully questioning and Harris answering, Gully asserting and Harris elaborating. This call-and-response seemed to be played until Harris implied in his response the outlines of the song. The next thing you know, the entire group charged into a spirited chorus that stopped on a dime.

"Of Things To Come" from the CD "Black Action Figure" created a funk rhythm, Evans throbbing a single dissonance and laying out broad chords as Harris' hands crossed and his arms blurred. It was apparent that Harris leads by dancing, bobbing his head and slouching his body to indicate when the others should come in.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Diane Schuur at Birdland Live Reviews Diane Schuur at Birdland
by Tyran Grillo
Published: November 20, 2017
Read Pat Metheny at Belfast Waterfront Live Reviews Pat Metheny at Belfast Waterfront
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 19, 2017
Read Crosscurrents at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor Live Reviews Crosscurrents at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: November 15, 2017
Read "Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy Concert 2016" Live Reviews Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy Concert 2016
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: December 17, 2016
Read "Penang Island Jazz Festival 2016" Live Reviews Penang Island Jazz Festival 2016
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 23, 2016
Read "Sue Rynhart at The Cresent Arts Centre" Live Reviews Sue Rynhart at The Cresent Arts Centre
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 15, 2017
Read "Shirlee Temper At The Empress Theatre" Live Reviews Shirlee Temper At The Empress Theatre
by Walter Atkins
Published: April 30, 2017
Read "Erik Friedlander At National Concert Hall, Dublin" Live Reviews Erik Friedlander At National Concert Hall, Dublin
by Ian Patterson
Published: February 8, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Please support out sponsor