Friday, July 16, 2010

Eddie Harris & Ellis Marsalis, Homecoming, ELM

This is as excellent a saxophone and piano duo pairing as People Time with Stan Getz and Kenny Barron, one of my all-time favorite jazz sessions (and People Time: The Complete Recordings, Sunnyside, 2009, which includes all seven sets from which the original was derived, is even better).

Here we have Harris, who really should be considered a tenor giant, and Marsalis, patriarch of one jazzy family and a stunning musician in his own right, on an out-of-print session from 1985 and reissued on the Marsalis family label with his son the stellar drummer Jason Marsalis in charge. Ethereal Moments, 1&2 is a track that really strikes me as revelatory because it could be taken as excellent 1) Third Stream music incorporating European classical forms and jazz or 2) advanced avant-garde jazz, neither of which you would necessarily associate with Harris, whose reputation suffers (unjustly in my my mind) from some of his more commercial efforts and Marsalis, at heart a New Orleans traditionalist. This is not, however, an out session (although some of the Harris licks on Zee Blues make the think: Archie Shepp). Ethereal, for example, is followed by an inside, but creatively Latinized, version of the Harold Arden-Johnny Mercer tune Out of This World, which is followed by a post-bop rendition of Darn That Dream, which would have struck a chord, so to speak, with the second great Miles Davis quintet, or Stan Getz and Kenny Barron for that matter.

The original clocked in at 42 minutes, so Jason Marsalis added four tracks with his father dueting with the young New Orleans pianist Jonathan Batiste in December 2009, a tasty bonus, and a final track, Blues at the End of the Session, with Ellis on piano, Batiste on melodica and Jason drumming that is a boffo blues and as good as anything else on what is a track-after-track gem.

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