October 2009

Stefon Harris & Blackout
Concord Jazz

In his musical life so far, the dazzling vibraphonist-bandleader Stefon Harris has mapped out a willfully varied course, taking care to acknowledge his deep jazz roots while venturing out into new and creative terrain. After his last album, the chamberesque Ellingtonia of African Tarantella: Dances with Duke, Harris’ new offering, Urbanus, harbors a more accessible, party-ready aesthetic.

With his band Blackout, the vibist is the physical, acoustic element in a tight creative collusion with keyboardist Marc Cary, on acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, and saxophonist Casey Benjamin, whose peregrinations into electronics and the half-human sound of the vocoder don’t always feel that contextually sound. Then again, with this project, Harris is valiantly attempting to do some cultural gap-bridging, reaching out to groove-seeking ears while keeping the jazz muse in mind.

The album works a balance between more eclectic and funkified ideas and older feels and traditions, starting with the opening track, “Gone.” Here, Harris gives an inventive nod to George Gershwin’s “Gone, Gone, Gone” and Jackie McLean’s “Minor March,” as well as the retro undulations of the go-go groove, which Miles Davis took to in his later period.

On “The Afterthought,” the feel shifts from a fast swing and a burning Cary piano solo to a slinking shuffle in the middle. Moving in a different direction, “For You” is a deceptively straight-on soul ballad that takes unexpectedly hip harmonic and textural turns. “Tanktified,” with its slippery yet solid bassline from Buster Williams, evokes the Headhunters, not at all a bad reference point for Harris’ brave new jazz-soul fusioneering.

Originally published in October 2009
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  • Oct 05, 2009 at 03:34PM karen

    The bassist in Blackout i Ben Williams, a standout who is completing his Masters at Juillard after studying with Rodney Whitaker at Michigan State. Ben will be competing in the Thelonious Monk International Competition for Bass in October. Buster Williams is honored in this album by the inclusion of one of his compositions, 'Christina'. Both Stefon Harris and Casey Benjamin have worked in Buster's band.

  • Oct 12, 2009 at 11:23AM Lee Mergner

    And he won!

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