Alex Harding

Invocation for Pepper

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Have you ever heard a donkey braying or a frog croaking? Well, Alex Harding is a mighty fine baritone saxophonist who every now and then goes off on a tangent and sounds something like, well, a donkey -- or a frog. Now, don't necessarily construe this as negative criticism, for Harding can play as well as anyone, and his histrionics equal the best. If you have any doubts, just hear him burn on "Eternal Triangle," a tour de force by any standard. The saxophonist's stellar credentials have made him a darling of the free jazz community, where there are very few baritone saxophonists who can solo with his forcefulness. He shows several sides on the instant recording: an affinity for hard bop worthy of his dedication to Pepper Adams, a Dionysian burst of emotional freedom, and a big, juicy tone that sends shivers up your spine on the slower pieces. Sometimes Harding gets a little carried away and, like his colleague, Hamiet Bluiett, he indulges in excesses that detract from the focus. The pared-down rhythm section of Dominic Duval and Jay Rosen can't be beat, and they carefully lay the carpet so that Harding can soar. There is an excellent choice of tunes, too, including Mingus' "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" (performed liberally and gruffly), J.J. Johnson's "Lament" (given an unusually subtle treatment), "You Don't Know What Love Is" (with the melody often implied), and a rousing version of "Jitterbug Waltz," taken at full throttle. This album may not fulfill Harding's considerable potential, but it shows sparks of a bright future.

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