Patience Higgins

Live in Harlem

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Patience Higgins, a multi-reedist who's worked with avant-garde artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, continues to don his straight-ahead hat for a weekly Monday-night jam session at one of Harlem's longest-lived jazz spots, St. Nick's Pub. Live in Harlem, recorded on location at the Pub in 1996, is saddled with a somewhat awkward double purpose. It's a document of the jam session, but it's also Higgins's long-awaited debut as a leader. (He plays tenor exclusively for the occasion.) Typically, jam sessions feature everyone and no one, as musicians come and go from the bandstand all night long -- perhaps not the best of creative circumstances for someone trying to make an individual statement. Presumably, the cuts selected for release were the ones that featured Higgins most effectively. Hamiet Bluiett, the baritone sax giant, was on hand as both producer and guest artist, playing on the extemporaneous "Berta's Song" (titled in honor of Berta Alloway, the organizer of the weekly jam). Higgins is joined by pianist Les Kurz, bassist Andy McCloud, and drummer Eli Fontaine. The Sugar Hill Quartet, as this outfit is known, winds its way through warhorse standards such as "It's You or No One," "Sonnymoon for Two," and "I Hear a Rhapsody," as well as a less tread-upon Thelonious Monk tune, "Let's Cool One." (Kurz's chintzy electric piano isn't ideal, but not every club is blessed with the real thing.) A number of guest artists make brief appearances, including trombonist Kiane Zawadi, trumpeter James Zoller, altoist Gerald Hayes, percussionists Leopoldo Fleming and Montego Joe, and -- best of all -- vocalist Ghannayia Green, who does a rousing rendition of "Route 66." But Higgins, with his big, throaty sound and flair for thematically developed solos, is definitely the star.

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