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Harrison Bankhead Quartet: Velvet Blue

Mark Corroto By

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Harrison Bankhead's time has come. The Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) is on a roll with the release of Velvet Blue. For decades, the bassist has been the bedrock upon which great Chicago jazz has been built. He was the foundation for legendary players like Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Malachi Thompson and a collaborator with Nicole Mitchell in the Indigo Trio and Hamid Drake and Ernest Dawkins with the Chicago Trio.

In 2011, he released Morning Sun Harvest Moon (Engine Studios) his first recording as a leader. With Velvet Blue he returns again with drummer Avreeayl Ra and two saxophonists, 8 Bold Souls collaborator Ed Wilkerson and Mars Williams.

The fifteen minute title track opens the session, with Bankhead's bass walking a bluesy workout that crosses Williams' tenor and Wilkerson's clarinet, before it opens into a two- saxophone skirmish. Bankhead's powerful and oh-so-steady pulse acts as resin here (and throughout) defining the boundaries of the engagement. Two- thirds of the song passes before his solo saturates the soundstage with pulse and a visceral feeling.

Bankhead plays off the inside groove, allowing his band to work the outer edges. "Right On It" burns even hotter with the bassist racing his fingers against Ra's furious drumming and the saxophone precipitation. But this isn't just a blowing session. The bassist's AACM affiliation necessitates the exploration of meditative sounds. "After Hours" marries harmonica with odd percussion, scrapings, and some uncredited piano, and "Ancestors of the Pharaohs of Nabta Playa" opens with thumb piano, didgeridoo, and kalimba. The sounds underscore Williams snake-like soprano saxophone explorations. Bankhead balances the firebrand pieces "Take it to the Bridge Ya'll" with moody meditations like "A Sketch of Stravinski" played with bowed strings and saturnine horns.

Track Listing: Velvet Blue; After Hours; Right On It; Ancestors of the Pharaohs of Nabta Playa; Take it to the Bridge Ya’ll; Rhythm of the Earth; A Sketch of Stravinski.

Personnel: Harrison Bankhead: bass; Ed Wilkerson: tenor saxophone, clarinet, alto clarinet, didgerido, harmonica; Mars Williams: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, kalimba; Avreeayl Ra: drums, thumb piano.

Title: Velvet Blue | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Engine Studios

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