Stefon Harris & Blackout have created a powerful blend of jazz and R&B with a hip-hop percussion accent on their well-titled CD Evolution. With Harris doubling on vibes and marimba, keyboardist Marc Cary, alto saxophonist Casey Benjamin, and bassist Darryl Hall, plus the driving percussion of Terreon Gully, the quintet's energy is immediately apparent. Their surprising opener is an in-your-face interpretation of the late Don Grolnick's post-bop "Nothing Personal," which departs so drastically from the composer's conception that it sounds like a brand new work. Hall penned the exotic "For Him, for Her," which features Harris on marimba and Anne Drummond's floating flute. Those who have ignored rocker Sting's work may be shocked when they hear Harris' lyrical interpretation of the ballad "Until," which adds Xavier Davis on piano. George Gershwin's "Summertime" gets an overdue makeover with the addition of a hip-hop rhythm, yet retains its magic with Benjamin's warm solo and Harris' imaginative vibes. The many sudden twists within Harris' infectious "Blackout" and the chant "King Tut's Strut" (written by Hotep Idris Galeta, and adding percussionist and vocalist Pedro Martinez) also merit attention. Stefon Harris & Blackout will likely have a huge hit on their hands with this groundbreaking release.
by Ken Dryden