Eddie Harris

The Last Concert

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Unless something unauthorized turns up, this appears to be Eddie Harris' last recording. The concert was taped in Europe -- where Harris was far more respected in his last years than in America -- eight months before his death. The occasion would be an atypical affair for him, appearing as a featured soloist (along with the fine trombonist Nils Landgren and, on one track, trumpeter John Marshall) in front of the WDR Big Band in Cologne. At first, the program consists of a series of straight-ahead Gil Goldstein charts on well-worn soul-jazz classics like "Sidewinder," "Moanin'," "Wade in the Water," and "Work Song," and then takes a decided, somewhat less successful turn toward '60s soul on "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "Gimme Some Lovin'" (with idiomatic vocals by Haywood J. Gregory). Of Harris' own corpus of tunes, only the inevitable "Freedom Jazz Dance" appears here (in an Arif Mardin chart), with Eddie offering probably the last of his fascinating run of solos over the previous three decades on his bewildering tune. Though ailing at the time (the inside photo shows that he doesn't look well at all), Harris is still in undiminished, swinging, highly individual form through the concert, gliding easily over the rhythm section on tenor sax and switching on some of his electronic octave doubling and harmonizing effects. By now, his vocabulary of funky licks had long been set in stone, so there are no revelations, just an assured apotheosis of his distinctive style. The day after the concert, Harris and Goldstein went into WDR Studio 4 to record a long, poignant duo encore, "You Stole My Heart," which features an unexpectedly deep, soulful vocal by Eddie and a pair of lingering, pithy, affectionate tenor solos that seem to bid farewell in a most touching way. Whether he knew it or not, that last tune is a marvelous epitaph.

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