Christian / Donald Harrison / Mulgrew Miller


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Cultural critic Greil Marcus wrote a scathing essay at the end of the 1970s about the rampant overuse of the word "survivor" in modern life. Over 25 years on, musicians of a certain age arguably have more of a right to use the S-word, especially a saxophonist like Donald Harrison, who has stayed true to his own soul-jazz path since his early days as a sideman despite the fact that his brand of funk-influenced hard bop has rarely been the least bit fashionable, even among many jazz listeners. The Survivor is a timeless album, most of which sounds like it could have come from any point in Harrison's career. Yet it's no mere nostalgia kick, because underneath Harrison's sterling alto work, the rhythm section sounds fairly attuned to contemporary trends. "The Hook Up" in particular has a skittering, hip-hop-influenced vibe to John Lamkin's drums; the closing track takes it all the way, being a mash-up of Harrison playing the Duke Ellington standard "Caravan" over a turntablist and a sample of James Brown's iconic "Funky Drummer" beat, perhaps the most-used sample in hip-hop history. The reason this track works in the context of more standard Harrison fare as the gentle original ballad "Sincerely Yours," rather than sounding like a stab at cultural relevance from an aging player, is that funk in all its forms has been at the root of not only Harrison's own music, but of this particular jazz path since the days of Miles Davis' "Walkin'" back in the early '50s. "Survivor" may still be overstating the case a bit, but The Survivor shows that far from being an esoteric form for aesthetic snobs and old folks, Harrison's music has grown along a parallel path to more familiar styles, and moves easily back and forth between them.

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