Newer Than New: BARRY HARRIS Quintet
Lonnie Hillyer (tp) Charles McPherson (as) Barry Harris (p) Ernie Farrow (b) Clifford Jarvis (drs)
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York
Mucho Dinero (3:40) (Barry Harris)
Easy to Love (4:46) (Cole Porter)
Burgundy (6:54) (Barry Harris)
The Last One (4:51) (Barry Harris)
Anthropology (4:14) (Gillespie – Parker)
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (4:07) (Rodgers & Hart)
Make Haste (5:33) (Barry Harris)
Nightingale (5:14) (Cugart – Rosner – Wise)
The word “mainstream” was originally coined to label the work of such “grand old men” of jazz as Coleman Hawking and Roy Eldridge. But several writers, most notably Leroi Jones, have now come to believe that the true mainstream players are the young men who have come up through the jazz ranks regarding the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie not as the violent revolutionary step it was in the 1940s, but rather as the common language on which to base their own work. Several such players have achieved considerable reputations of their own – Donald Byrd and Jackie McLean, to name two – and may be considered the contemporary traditionalists of jazz.
Significantly enough, a great number of the well-regarded young players who have approached jazz in this way were members of the mass exodus from Detroit to New York that took place in the early 1950s. Byrd was one, Paul Chambers, Pepper Adams and the late Doug Watkins were others. Along with several others, singly and in combination, they revitalized they New York jazz world of that time. And all of them, particularly pianists like Tommy Flanagan, spoke of a fellow Detroiter whom they regarded as elder statesman, mentor and, almost incidentally, an excellent pianist. It was not until several years later that Barry Harris himself left Detroit, and when he finally did, many people were surprised to see, not a giant with a long white beard, but a small, soft-spoken man in his early thirties.
Harris, for his part, is very much a part of the Parker-Gillespie tradition, having based his style on their pianistic counterpart, Bud Powell. Since his arrival in New York, he has been seen often in person and has recorded widely, but he still retains his status as one of the world’s youngest grand old men, and the discovering and assisting of new musicians is at least as important to him as the furthering of his own career as a pianists.
This album is the direct result of that preoccupation. It features a quintet made up, as Harris puts it, of “four Detroiters and a Bostonian”. Bassist Eddie Farrow has worked with Terry Gibbs. Drummer Clifford Jarvis, the Bostonian, has worked with Randy Weston and Lou Donaldson. Whenever there is a Barry Harris Trio in clubs, the two are members, and they were also the rhythm section of the quartet that featured Harris with Detroit multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef throughout much of 1961.
The main purpose here, however, is to present two young men with whose work Harris is particularly impressed. Both are in their early twenties, and even though early recognition has cursed the careers of more than a few young jazzmen, Harris has high hopes for their futures. Trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer, a Mingus alumnus now with James Moody, is the first. Of him, Harris says significantly, “I’m waiting for Diz to hear him. He plays the trumpet – high and low.” The second is altoist Charles McPherson, who is with Mingus at present. The Barry Harris Quintet formed by these men is, as the music indicates, more than just a recording group – it is a working unit that has, as of this writing, performed at several Birdland Monday night sessions, and hopefully may, with the release of this recording, begin to work even more regularly.
There is an instantly identifiable unity of purpose to the quintet which marks it, for this listener, as a group which has more to offer than the usual strings of solos of whatever quality. That unity of purpose is fidelity to the Parker-Gillespie-Powell tradition. Not slavish imitation, but an awareness that this tradition is a valuable jazz language which has by no means exhausted the capacity for meaningful statements that can still be made within its confines.
This is the significance of the album title, “Newer Than New.” Certain jazz cultists make newness itself a criterion, crating a situation in which it sometimes takes years before the true innovators in any new style can be separated from the bandwagon boys who latch onto the cliches of the latest style and go along for the ride until they are found out. Newness in itself, obviously, is not good enough. Hillyer and McPherson have not placed that barrier between themselves and their audience. The source of their work is immediately apparent, and the interested jazz listener is free to assess the worth of their contribution simply on its merits. The same, incidentally, (or, rather, more than incidentally) has always been true of Barry Harris.
There seems little point, on an album of this nature, to go into extended analysis of individual tracks. The entire set, for me, has something of the quality of thrilling immediacy which is present on some of the Parker-Gillespie concert and radio performances which have fortunately been preserved on records. The set comes much closer to that excitement of live performance than most recordings are able to do, perhaps as a result of the conviction with which the music is played. There are, of course, several direct references to Parker here. Anthropology has always been associated with him. The two standards, Easy to Love and I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, were favorites of his. Burgundy is based in part on another standard which he played often. The Last One, so called because it was the final tune on the session, is based on an old warhorse Dizzy used to have quite a bit of fun with, and utilized Parker’s favorite sardonic reference to Percy Grainger’s Country Gardens. All this not withstanding, however, my own favorite is Barry Harris’ delightful newly written Latin piece, Mucho Dinero – which may only prove that the finest things on the set are “Newer Than New.”
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER (recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
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