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Donald Harrison: Heroes

In December of 2002, altoist Donald Harrison, drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Ron Carter recorded the saxophonist’s Heroes, which received a warm reception upon its release in 2004. The day after, Harrison taped nine more tracks, this time with drummer John Lamkin and bassist Vicente Archer, plus, on three tunes, pianist Glen Patscha. That second recording was recently released as Free Style (Nagel-Heyer), and includes, as a bonus, two cuts from the earlier album. As a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the ’80s and later as co-leader with trumpeter Terence Blanchard of his own group, Harrison proved to be a accomplished hard-bop improviser with a pure, distinctive sound. Here, while he’s still steeped in tradition, he does on occasion employ techniques associated with less orthodox players (unmeasured flurries of notes, for example). But what is really unorthodox about Free Style is the infectious funk drumbeat underpinning Miles Davis’ “So What” and Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” as well as most of the other tunes, some being anchored with a repetitive bass figure as well. Harrison takes full advantage of the novel setting to create consistently inventive-rhythmically and melodically-improvisations.

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