Barry Harris

Live in New York

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For jazz pianists, there's a lot to be said for reaching your early seventies. If your chops have held up -- and that's a big if, of course -- and the enthusiasm is still there, that combination of knowledge, experience, and technical skills can be a wonderful thing. Barry Harris was 72 when, in August 2002, Live in New York was recorded in a Big Apple club -- the credits and liner notes don't tell which one -- and the veteran pianist obviously hasn't lost anything in the chops department. He is in good to excellent form throughout this CD, which finds him leading a quintet that employs Charles Davis on tenor sax, Paul West on upright bass, Leroy Williams on drums, and Israeli improviser Roni Ben-Hur on guitar. Nothing groundbreaking occurs, but then, Harris was never groundbreaking to begin with. Even in his youth, Harris was a follower rather than a leader -- a pure, unapologetic bebopper who, like Sonny Stitt on the saxophone, excelled by sticking with the tried and proven instead of pushing jazz's envelope. And on Live in New York, the 72-year-old Harris maintains that hell-belt-for-bop outlook on three original pieces ("Monking Around," "To Dizzy With Love," and the congenial "7-4-3") as well as Tadd Dameron's intriguing "Casbah" and Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." Yes, the latter has been beaten to death over the years -- some would argue that there needs to be a moratorium on "'Round Midnight" (for younger artists, anyway). But because Harris is old enough to remember the dawn of bebop, one ends up welcoming his inspired performance of a great but overdone standard that Orrin Keepnews has correctly described as "the national anthem of jazz." Live in New York falls short of essential, although it's a solid, rewarding effort that Harris' longtime fans will enjoy.

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