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Stefon Harris and Blackout: Evolution

Vibraphonist Stefon Harris is another among the growing corps of magnificent young musicians whose work should inspire and delight jazz fans interested in exciting, diversified contemporary fare. Harris doesn’t care about such divides as inside or outside, smooth or mainstream, and each record he makes represents a different conceptual journey. Evolution combines some short, groove-oriented pieces with more extensive, musically challenging combo works, featuring a group smartly mixing acoustic and electric instruments and maintaining an improvisational framework without being afraid to include rock, funk, fusion and pop elements into their arrangements.

The cut “Red-Bone, Netti-Bone,” for example, has a humorous, bluesy foundation yet features a spirited, exuberant alto sax solo from Casey Benjamin, whose alternately furious and mellow playing provides a strong, soulful second lead voice. Flutist Anne Drummond offers contrasting lines and counterpoint on several selections, most notably “For Him, For Her” and “A Touch of Grace.” Harris’ tactical decision to prominently feature the electric keyboard proves equally noteworthy, with Marc Cary’s flickering, fleeting yet assertive contributions making strong contributions to such songs as “Nothing Personal” and “King Tut’s Strut.”

Harris was an impressive vibes player on his first release, but he’s now a seasoned, frequently spectacular soloist on this, his fifth album. He can do lean, sparse melodic accompaniment, execute complex, intricate patterns, play soft, soothing melodies or demonstrate both the vibes and marimba’s percussive attributes, which he does with flair on “King Tut’s Strut,” “Message to Mankind” and “Blackout.” Add excellent percussionist Pedro Martinez, plus a solid rhythm section in bassist Darryl Hall and drummer Terreon Gully, and the results are an outstanding record that demonstrates the link between jazz and pop styles without demeaning or debasing either.

Originally Published