Modern mainstream jazz at its broadest and deepest, African currents, After Hours, Amen!
Technical jargon's sometimes necessary, so with apologies:
This is something like a party at which the classy musicians present can't forget -- nobody can -- that they are very classy musicians. The penultimate track might remind some people that drummer/leader Harper once worked not only with his brother but with Ray Bryant.
T.W. Sample does a nice take on "After Hours", conjured once by Avery Parrish from across the tracks Alabama barrelhouse piano and recorded as one of his features with the Erskine Hawkins big band he dignified. The "After Hours" here seems to have been modelled on Bryant's duly celebrated recording of the number with Sonnies Stitt and Rollins, and Dizzy Gillespie. The piano part builds to a climax, then there's the band part, devised by Parrish. Like DG's version, this one then has a succession of blues solos. Yep, that's Wycliffe Gordon with the plungered trombone!
DG would have appreciated the closing track, "The Prayer", a percussion number on which Harper plays balafon, and Abou Mboup sings as well as playing "talking drums". It seems to belong to the African continent, and does much of what DG wanted when he imported Cubans of rhythmic genius.
Actually, after putting this CD in the player I wondered whether I'd maybe pulled the recent Ray Barretto CD from the carrying case, The first track is, however, the forgotten Charlie Parker tune "Segment", with Alioune Faye, and Keith and Jeremy Jones doing the energetic rattle and clatter. I won't pretend to have followed Mr. Harper's career in detail, but the notes list some people as regulars in his band and the personnel details list some of them on only two or three tracks. Presumably on this date, beside guests Gordon and Hart, he has a number of people who play in his quintet at different times, swapping chairs or adding other chairs and sitting in. A party, I told you! Stacy Dillard plays tenor on the opener, and comes into a later track, and likewise Sean Higgins on piano. Otherwise it's Lawrence Clark and T.J. Sample on these instruments.
At one point during the percussion orgy at the opening of Ruban Brown's "Children of the World" I suspected I was going to hear Miles Davis' "All Blues" for the umpteenth time, !t turned out to be only the harmony of a single phrase. Hear the percussion section again, for quite a workout following Lawrence Clark's intense tenor and the smoky -- if not even smoking --vtrumpet of Josh Evans.
Either some of the percussionists have dropped out, or they are outdoing the hornmen, and Sample, in quiet playing on "Morning Glow". That one has a nice wake-up or sun-breaks-through moment after lyrical ensemble work on the theme, and sparkling piano. The music develops some bottom for the tenorist's brief statement, the fluegelhorn is concise, and it's not just a case of each man getting his turn; these two regulars take, or shape things as a preliminary to Antonio Hart's sustained alto solo. He's a very welcome guest, but there are a few hackneyed licks he might have avoided. I really like the way the final circling ensemble figure in the horns never delivers the repeated figure mechanically. There's shape and phrasing as it circles under Harper's torrents of drumming.
Is "Make it Happen" Gordon's debut on didgeridoo? There's some real fun with happy clatterings, and the sleeve note tells me that "At one point Winard's descending balafon roll sounds for all the world like a Chinese melody from the 17th century Manchu Qing dynasty". It’s a more scholarly reference than I could manage. The notes are good and while hardly unenthusiastic they do draw attention to interesting things in the music. This is refreshing in comparison with the soapsuds on other liners. Sample uses synthesizer to simulate funky organ and Gordon does some rasps and cod warbles as they, well, party the ending.
And suddenly there's Hart with the very nice bass of Ameen Saleem on the beautiful ballad "Tamisha", composed by the same Mr. Saleem. Harper's use of brushes is very sensitive, and the bass emerges more clearly as Hart's solo progresses, with an impression of increasing in clarity and refreshedness the listener might expect to share. This isn't the least interesting thing Hart has done at his best, and hear the other two guys.
On Gordon's "Get it! Get it!", Clark's tenor races away; on Ray Bryant's "Reflection", the duly meditational ensemble conclusion has a beautiful terminal strike on Harper's cymbal.
The party element seems to extend further. It seems every guy who could bring along something of his own did so. Clark brought his dreamy "Lourana", which allowed scope for him and Evans to produce a flowing, sublime ensemble. Evans brought along a tune called "Chronic Mistakes", giving Clark the opportunity to do some exciting trilling, and eventually each of them the chance to be gruff in his own way. To take this review out with the party analogy, each of the two Joneses on the guest list, Kevin and Jeremy, has brought along percussion implements, including "shaker" and "cowbell". The name of the host's feature sounds like it could be a game: "BangBangBoomBoomBapBap". It's a remarkably spritely solo improvisation.which might make you wonder how it could possibly wind up without a letdown. But then there's silence. Without any sense of the end coming, he has just stopped.