Billy Harper

Live on Tour in the Far East, Vol. 3

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The third and final stop on the Billy Harper Quintet's Far Eastern recording road show brings them to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia and...well, maybe this one is the best single disc of the three. It's got the best sound, bright and well-balanced, and fans of extended jazz blowing will appreciate hearing three pieces (the shortest clocks in at just under 21 minutes) on a night when the musicians are really on and totally in synch with one another.

On Tour, Vol. 3 also has "Soran Bushi B.H.," Harper's adaptation of a traditional Japanese folk tune that not only may be his finest composing moment but deserves to be an enduring jazz standard. The majestic, meditative Oriental chordal tinges from Francesca Tanksley's piano and Eddie Henderson's muted trumpet set the stage for an opening spiral into the melody statement by Harper that is simply breathtaking. The rhythm section drops into a loose-limbed groove for Henderson and Harper's solos before Tanksley goes off on her own Tyner-esque way. And then Harper returns, with just Newman T. Baker's responsive drums for support, to build a monumental solo on giant interval leaps, honking on the low notes and creating a separate melody line a couple of octaves higher up, before returning to the magnetic theme.

"Call Of The Wild" and "Peaceful Heart" find a similar springy uptempo groove with Tanksley's solo providing the peace and Henderson blazing in to provide the wildness. The long rests fragmenting the melody of "Cry of Hunger" and explosive solo squalls make it probably the most outside piece in Harper's repertoire. His solo changes up constantly between long, lithe lines and stitching together the rhythm units in the melody, Henderson's mute offers low-key contrast to Harper's intensity and Tanksley takes it down to nothing before pulling the opening melodic fragments together.

The fact that "Cry Of Hunger" holds interest through 30 minutes of changes in mood, approach and tone is a pretty perfect capsule for this quintet and On Tour, Vol. 3 and its two predecessors. It simply would have been a treat to be in the audience hearing this music pour out. Even though, Harper is the featured leader and composer, it's definitely a group triumph because every musician complements one another and gives everything they have to offer in the music. In many ways, Billy Harper's '90s quintet fills the same spot as the George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet the decade before. Not that the two groups sound the same but these are mature veterans with dues paid, fundamentals absorbed and a crucial dedication to stretch and push the music forward. Sadly, they're also similar in not receiving, especially in the U.S., the wider recognition their masterful and inventive music so richly deserved.

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