Donald Harrison

Free to Be

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On his second album for Impulse!, recorded August 18-September 24, 1998, Donald Harrison continues to proselytize for what he called "nouveau swing" on his first date for the label, even going so far as to sing/rap an explanation of his concept in "Nouveau Swing (Reprise)." Essentially, what he seems to mean by the term is that, within an acoustic quartet setting, he intends to introduce elements of a number of musical genres, for example covering the Meters' funk anthem "Cissy Strut" and having drummer John Lamkin use a reggae feel for "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," the Sigmund Romberg standard he previously recorded on For Art's Sake. As on Nouveau Swing, he alternates rhythm sections, using his regular working band, Lamkin, pianist Andrew Adair, and bassist Reuben Rogers, but switching to the more high-profile unit of pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Carl Allen for special occasions such as a cover of Duke Ellington's "Blue Rose," an uncharacteristic tune originally written for Rosemary Clooney. And there are a few guests, notably trumpeter Bryan Lynch on the bluesy "Again, Never" by Bill Lee (father of Spike) and Eddie Palmieri's "Slowvisor" (which also features Palmieri on piano), Teodross Avery on Harrison's own New Orleans-styled "Indian Blues," and Rodney Jones playing Wes Montgomery-style guitar on "Mr. Cool Breeze," "Smooth Sailing," and "Nouveau Swing (Reprise)," all Harrison originals. Despite the various eclectic elements, Harrison remains the same post-bop player he has always been: he may launch into "Cissy Strut" with a semblance of Meters fervor, but when he takes his solo it could be 1958 instead of 1998. It's hard to see how he can compromise his heritage any more than he does and retain his musical integrity, but it's equally hard to see how he can distinguish himself by being remaining so steeped in that heritage. And isn't that the standard problem for the Marsalis-era generation of jazz musicians?

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