Eddie Harris

Exodus to Jazz/Mighty Like a Rose

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This Vee Jay two-fer reissues Eddie Harris' first two albums, the surprise hit Exodus to Jazz and the similar-sounding follow-up Mighty Like a Rose. One of the biggest hit jazz LPs of the post-rock & roll era, Exodus to Jazz seemed to come completely out of left field. It was the debut album by a previously unknown artist from an underpublicized scene in Chicago, and it was released on the primarily R&B-oriented Vee Jay label. The impetus for its breakthrough was equally unlikely; Harris adapted Ernest Gold's stately, somber theme from the Biblical film Exodus into a laid-back jazz tune. Its stunning popularity sent jazz critics into a tizzy -- after all, if it was that accessible to a mass audience, there just had to be something wrong with it, didn't there? In hindsight, the answer is no. Exodus to Jazz is full of concise, easy-swinging grooves that maintain the appealing quality of the strikingly reimagined title track (particularly Harris' four originals). Far removed from his later, funkier days, Harris plays a cool-toned tenor that owes its biggest debt to Stan Getz's bop recordings, though there are touches of soul-jazz as well. One can hardly blame Harris for taking essentially the same approach on the follow-up Mighty Like a Rose; it's not every day that a jazz artist's debut LP makes him a million-selling star overnight. There are only two Harris originals this time around; the rest of the repertoire is mostly standards, plus another movie theme adaptation -- this time of "Spartacus." It's all well-executed, and Harris' command of the highest ranges of his instrument is as lovely as ever. Since these two sessions are very much of a piece, their pairing on a two-fer makes perfect sense, and results in the best available way to hear Harris' early sound.

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