Roderick Harper

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Roderick Harper is a refreshing jazz vocalist who takes chances with familiar standards, jazz standards, and modern pop tunes on his eponymous, second CD as a leader. With trumpeter Nicholas Payton as producer (who also plays piano, bass, and drums on some tracks), Harper enjoys doing the unexpected. "Willow Weep for Me" almost seems played on autopilot on many recordings, but Harper devours Payton's bluesy chart, swooping all over the soulful setting. Harper delights in Payton's snappy arrangement of "Where or When" (with Payton overdubbing the entire rhythm section himself); he offers a swinging treatment of "Waltz for Debbie" that adds a number of musical twists (One minor quibble: Gene Lees, not Bill Evans, wrote its lyrics), and he also connects with his emotional interpretation of "Return to Paradise," an obscure movie theme written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington. Even Sade's "Love Is Stronger Than Pride," a normally unpromising AAA ballad, is reshaped by Payton's inventive arrangement, which features pianist Leandro Lopez to good effect, with harmony by Payton (on flugelhorn) and flautist Steve Eisen. Recommended.

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