Bayou Classic 2010

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Bayou Classic's 2010 - Weekend Scores Big on Music

By: Geraldine Wyckoff, The Lousiana Weekly Contributing Writer

Can modern jazz be ultimately progressive, dynamically exploring the universe of creative cognition, and still swing like crazy? Donald Harrison Jr. declares yes on the opening cut on his new album Quantum Leap. The saxophonist, a master on the jazz scene today, should also persuade any doubters of this capability when he performs with his quartet at Snug Harbor on Saturday, November 27, 2010.

The tune, "Quantum Time," finds Harrison at center stage soaring on super speed runs that nonetheless flow like liquid before he jumps back to a beboppin' swing. His group with longtime associates drummer Joe Dyson and bassist Max Moran plus pianist Sullivan Fortner and guitarist Detroit Brooks more than follow his lead, adapting to the changes of attitude and jazz modes.

"We're really onto something this time," says Harrison of the dy­namics on selection. "We went somewhere else. It's a quantum leap and it opens up other doors that were closed in music before - rhythmically, melodically and harmonically. The concept is past, present and future. You can be at whatever point you want to be. I'm still pinching myself because you don't know how you get there. Something happens and you're there. It's the first song of a new jazz style."

While the remarkable Dy­son/Moran team remains constant on the CD, Harrison utilizes three different pianist - Fortner, Victor Gould and Conun Pappas - on music that reflects the altoist's penchant for injecting jazz with his many musical interests. Both Pappas, who will play the Snug gig along with Dyson and Moran, and Gould have long relationships performing with Harrison. On the other hand, Fortner, a New Orleans native and NOCCA graduate, just happened to be in town during the recording session. His compatibility with the saxophonist is evident throughout the disc and his excellent performance should bring him greater name recognition.

"He's in there with me - he's talkin' to me," Harrison says. "Everybody's asking who's that pianist," he adds referring to those hearing Fortner on that first, stunning cut. "He's has more of a buzz in New York than he does in New Orleans."

Fortner shines on another album highlight, the wonderful ballad "The Sand Castle Head Hunter." The song has a familiar ring that Harrison attributes to his bow to the renowned group the Head Hunters, which he's played with since 2003. Enforcing that sound is the presence of percussionist Bill Summers, an original member of the band that was established by piano giant Herbie Hancock. "It's reminiscent of them with a little Jimi Hendrix sidetrack," says Harrison with a laugh.

Reaching deep into his musical and emotional experiences, the saxophonist blows with impeccable beauty and authority while Dyson drives the romance of the tune with deserved intensity. "Max is also all over the bass on that one," Harrison praises.

Having played with Harrison for many years, Gould and Pappas developed similar mindsets with the highly acclaimed saxophonist who has shared with them his wealth of jazz knowledge that he credits to those who came before.

"Those guys never leave me because they know the book," Harrison offers speaking of the two pianists. "I can always call one of them."

Pappas gets the nod on the disc's final two, dance-provoking, funky numbers "Young MJ," which was inspired, in part, by a Michael Jackson groove, and the closer, "Water Meter." Dyson, who has worked with Harrison since the drummer's high school days, gets down on funk on these tunes. "I told him to put some Zigaboo in them," says Harrison, referring, of course, to New Orleans great drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. "His bag is getting bigger and bigger," says Harrison of Dyson.

Gould comes in on the smoother jazz tunes such as "I Will Love You Right" that Harrison likens to the cool jazz style of the 1960s. "Smooth jazz just takes the sharp edges off it," explains Harrison of what distinguishes the style that he has also been associated with since releasing his album The Power of Cool.

The album gets swinging again on Dyson's contribution, "Make Some Noise," that displays the strong relationship between the drummer and bassist and the sense of group effort.

"The reason I like these guys is because they have a way of making the hardest music sound like anybody can play this. When other musicians try, they find out that it's hard."

It's Harrison himself who takes over piano as well as all of the vocal parts on the straight-up hip-hop offering, "The Greatest." An original composition, as are all but one cut on the album, its lyrics are an ode to jazz. Actually, Harrison's voice is barely recognizable in the rap role, though his alto remains signature.

"My idea was to have the whole history of the music in whatever we did," says Harrison. "I'm like a depository of a lot ideas from a lot of great musicians. I think this is a whole new beginning for me."

Teaming Up on St. Claude

Electric violinist Michael Ward has performed at Sweet Lorraine's during Bayou Classic weekend for over 25 years. "I'm a Southern Knight," the talented alumni of Southern University of Baton Rouge once declared with obvious pride. On Friday, November 26, there will be a bit of a twist in his performance at the St. Claude Avenue club as Ward teams with trumpeter/vocalist

Kermit Ruffins.

Stylistically, the two musicians' approach to jazz are what many might consider worlds apart. For decades, Ward has been nationally and internationally renowned for dispensing his own dynamic, fiery brand of smooth jazz, which he prefers to call "instrumental R&B and funk music." On the other hand, Ruffins, who boasts similar world-wide recognition, has gained a reputation for his laid-back manner swinging primarily on jazz's more traditional fare. The violinist, a Texas native, came up playing classical music and modern jazz while the trumpeter, a New Orleanian all the way, honed his chops on the streets with the ReBirth Brass Band.

This isn't the first time that Ward and Ruffins have joined forces. Some folks might remember those notorious Sunday nights at Joe's Cozy Corner where the violinist was often a special guest at Ruffins' sets that enjoyed a great mix-and-match of artists. Ward would also head down to Vaughn's to sit in with Ruffins at his now famous Thursday gigs.

"I just wanted to do something different," says Ward of inviting Ruffins to play during Bayou Clas­sic weekend. "When we play, I end up doing his type of material rather than him doing mine. I really have to slow down a lot because I usually play a lot of fast runs. It's just fun."

Ward only makes rare appearances in New Orleans spending most of his time on the road. He recently returned from South Africa and will soon head out touring a show dubbed "Fathers & Sons" with saxophonist Ronnie Laws and both of the stars' offspring - violinist Shaun Ward and saxophonist Jaman Laws.

Ward says that his Bayou Classic appearances at Sweet Lorraine's remain special. "It's an ideal spot for the adults who come to town for the game and are looking for somewhere to go that isn't oriented toward the college kids. The crowd is always there to have a good time."

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