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Alex Harding & Blutopia: The Calling

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Alex Harding’s The Calling reminds me of a time not so long ago when jazz maintained fairly consistent values-before “straightahead” and “free” became irreconcilably separate, when jazz musicians weren’t afraid of being imperfect and style had yet to win out over feeling. The brainy yet gut-busting baritone saxophonist/bass clarinetist fronts a quintet of first-class improvisers (Lucian Ban, piano; Brad Jones, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums; Andrew Daniels, percussion) in a set long on both musical sophistication and emotional depth. The original compositions swing very hard; a streak of gospel runs through most, and an unalloyed blues feel is ever – present.

Like Harding, Ban is a fine and tasteful changes player who’s just as capable of taking it “out.” He gives the ensemble the right amount of harmonic flexibility and percussive energy. Jones and Waits are a burning team. Waits, in particular, is enormously exciting, excelling at changes of mood and velocity. Harding combines a limber technique and vivid imagination with the ability and inclination to explore the most expressive aspects of the music. Few saxophonists these days are half as interesting. Still fewer are as intense. Good album. Very good.