Because the lyrics to so many of Billy Strayhorn's compositions reflect love lost or not yet obtained, few vocalists have attempted to record an entire release of his songs. But singer Allan Harris is up to the challenge, mixing very familiar tunes (while avoiding the all too obvious choice of his best-known song, "Take the 'A' Train") with some rarely recorded at all. With a superb cast of supporting musicians, including pianist Eric Reed, tenor saxophonist Don Braden, guitarist Ron Affif, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet, and drummer Cecil Brooks III, Harris' rich voice carries the day with ease. Part of his success is due to the unusual arrangements: "Something to Live For" is at a brisker than normal tempo with a slightly funky feeling, Ron Affif's lively Joe Pass-like guitar removes the stop-and-go melodrama that pervades nearly every other recorded version of "Lush Life," and "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" is recast as a driving samba. But there are treasures also awaiting within the less familiar selections. Harris makes the first recording of the words Strayhorn wrote for "My Little Brown Book," a bittersweet ballad that again benefits from a gently faster and swinging tempo and also has some nice licks by Reed. "Love Came," with lyrics by Ellington and music by Strayhorn, is a powerful bossa nova with soft accompaniment by Affif. "Oo! (You Make Me Tingle)" gives Harris an opportunity to show off his playful side and provides a welcome relief from a steady diet of downcast lyrics. Harris wraps the CD with a powerful a cappella take of the rarely heard "Love Has Passed Me By Again." Allan Harris' brilliant and innovative approach to the works of Billy Strayhorn should make this an essential CD for jazz lovers.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden