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Donald Harrison: Real Life Stories

Real Life Stories (Nagel-Heyer) is Donald Harrison’s latest excursion into the eclectic. Although billed as another manifestation of the altoist’s patented “nouveau swing,” this album often fails to fulfill either part of the brand description. Harrison plays with the head-wagging strut of his native New Orleans-a quality that lends itself well to the funk of “Playa Haters” and the blue-bop of “I’m Barred.” But neither he nor his sextet-which includes his talented nephew Christian Scott on trumpet and the excellent pianist Eric Reed-seem to take to “Take Five,” and their “Night in Tunisia” sounds less mysterious than mundane. Harrison is a fine saxophonist with two Achilles’ heels: an urge to please the people and a desire to advance his conceptual ideal. What’s lacking here is something between those poles, something small and simple: the unforced spark that gives a band its life.

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