Harrison/Blanchard picBeginning with 1983's New York Second Line, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Donald Harrison released a handful of albums that sprung from their time growing up in New Orleans and as members in drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Bringing to mind the iconic pairing of Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, the Harrison/Blanchard albums -- 1983's New York Second Line, 1984's Discernment, 1986's Nascence all on Concord and 1987's Crystal Stair and 1988's Black Pearl on Columbia -- were a mix of acoustic hard bop, standards and some adventurous post-bop originals that often referenced New Orleans themes and rhythms. In that sense, the duo was sometimes compared, both favorably and unfavorably, to their fellow New Orleanian contemporaries and Messenger-alums Wynton and Branford Marsalis. As such, these recordings are often disregarded as well studied, but ultimately derivative neo-bop albums that aped the Marsalis mold of conservative, cerebral, double-breasted suit wearing modal jazz -- which is in itself an oft-stated party line dismissal of Wynton's music, but that's an argument for another day.

While it is true that these albums do fit into the larger '80s jazz trend of looking backward to the music of the '60s, a lot of that had to do with the aesthetics of the time which were a reaction against the '70s trend of electric, rock-influenced jazz. All of which is to say, that yes, the Harrison/Blanchard albums were deeply influenced by acoustic modern jazz and specifically the music of Miles Davis' classic late '60s sextet, but also by such cerebral and boundary-pushing jazz luminaries as Ornette Coleman, Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson. Further, as evidenced by the title cut to New York Second Line, Blanchard/Harrison were at once taking jazz back to its roots and propelling it forward again with a youthful inventiveness that hadn't been heard on record in some time.

Notably, in 1986, Blanchard and Harrison released two live tribute albums to another great jazz duo with Eric Dolphy & Booker Little Remembered Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 1 and Fire Waltz: Eric Dolphy & Booker Little Remembered Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 2. Featuring the late trumpeter and saxophonist's rhythm section of pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Ed Blackwell, these albums were a distinct honor for Blanchard/Harrison at the time and based on the cuts, a deserved one.

Ultimately, Blanchard and Harrison went their separate ways after 1988's Black Pearl with Harrison retaining a low, but active, profile and Blanchard going on to become the sound of director Spike Lee's films -- even pairing with Branford Marsalis for the highly influential soundtrack to Mo' Better Blues. And while both artists progressed creatively since their time as duo -- notably Blanchard's epic 2007 paean to the hurricane-ravaged New Orleans A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) was nominated for a Grammy -- there is still something fresh, brash and vigorous about these early recordings. The Blanchard/Harrison albums deserve reissue/re-evaluation.

Check out some of the Blanchard/Harrison tribute to the Eric Dolphy/Booker Little quintet.
    Booker's Waltz
    Number Eight (Potsa Lotsa)
    Bee Vamp