January/February 2007

Salim Washington & Harlem Arts Ensemble
Harlem Homecoming

The horn section of the Harlem Arts Ensemble dates back nearly two decades, when they formed as the Roxbury Blues Aesthetic. Currently, the group, which includes a violist among the six “horns,” performs weekly at Harlem’s St. Nick pub, which accounts for the rapport felt in the hard-hitting performances on Harlem Homecoming.

Tenor saxophonist Salim Washington leads them through a set of creative originals that establishes the Ensemble’s flight patterns. An equally unique soloist, he writes in a manner that requires a cohesive group to develop the music, be it free, straightahead or evocative of a jug band. The title track evokes the busy sound of Harlem’s streets, built on an extended, post-hard-bop structure and production that sounds raw in an appropriate way. Washington’s spoken word portion of “In Search of Sane Alternatives” assesses the post-9/11 landscape and avoids simple pontification in favor of an articulate tirade that’s as effective as his playing. Musically, the piece evokes Charles Mingus’ “Meditations on Integration,” going through a number of changes that shift from sweet to turbulent. Trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy contributes “Stranded” from his Jazz Messengers days, and the album wraps up with “How Great Thou Art” to bring this strong set full circle.

Originally published in January/February 2007
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