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.