At this point in his career—25 years after his breakthrough New York Second Line album with partner Terence Blanchard and following invaluable apprenticeships with Art Blakey and Eddie Palmieri—alto saxophonist Harrison has become a seasoned veteran and respected bandleader-talent scout (his young nephew and discovery, trumpeter Christian Scott, has already struck out on a promising career of his own). On The Chosen, his fifth outing for Nagel Heyer, Harrison is in the company of a new crew of gifted youngbloods in pianist Victor Gould, bassist Max Moran and the sensational drummer Joseph Dyson Jr. Together they cover a wide swath of stylistic territory, from the all-out burn of Trane’s “Mr. P.C.,” featuring an intense sax-drums breakdown between Harrison and Dyson, to a relaxed, loosely swinging rendition of “If I Were a Bell” full of tricky bits of metric modulation, to the infectiously melodic title track and the rousing second-line groover “I’m the Big Chief of Congo Square,” in which the alto saxophonist (an authentic Mardi Gras Indian Chief) resurrects his rich New Orleans heritage, harkening back to his great 1991 recording Indian Blues.
Strangely, Harrison chooses to sit one out, opting to showcase his talented rhythm section on a piano-trio rendition of Juan Tizol’s “Caravan.” He returns for a soulful take on the George and Ira Gershwin nugget “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” blowing that familiar melody with the simplicity and charm of a vocalist before breaking away for some lofty, Bird-inspired flights. He plays with a relaxed soulfulness on his evocative ballad “To Nola With Love,” eventually stretching out on some gospel-tinged bits of testifying through the course of this 10-minute paean to the Crescent City. His other originals include the urgent, R&B-flavored “The Right Touch,” underscored by Fender Rhodes electric piano and Dyson’s slick hip-hop-flavored beat, and the dreamy “Urban Serengeti.” And he joins in on snare and ride cymbal along with a crew of four New Orleans parade drummers on the ultra-funky “Drum Line.” A potent package from start to finish with no filler in between.