For all the freedom from tradition contemporary clarinetists have gained, they frequently make it or break it artistically based on the quality of their sound. But as strong a player as Darryl Harper is, the most striking and appealing thing about his music is its conceptual rigging. An active intellect drives The Edenfred Files, a collection of precisely calibrated tunes-multi-part adventures, really-that never fail to entrance.
Most of them are performed by Philly native Harper’s long-running Onus Trio, featuring bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Butch Reed. The group handles serial thematic shifts deftly, moving from sustained warning tones to child’s melody to earthy lament on “Sirens Calling,” and, on Julius Hemphill’s “Kansas City Line,” offering a jaunty, puzzle-like reworking of traditional blues. The melody ebbs and flows over Reed’s coiled strokes, one example of the different drum tunings and bass sounds that are employed on different cuts. (Parrish gets ample opportunity to strut his stuff.)
On select tracks, Harper features classically inclined pianist Kevin Harris. He sustains a rumbling, rough-edged bottom on “Walking With Old Souls,” a pensive original on which Harper applies dark tones to a Christmas-like melody. Elsewhere, Harris reveals a flair for the dramatic with emphatic single notes and hard minimalist repetitions, and he closes the album with a lovely, recital-like solo rendering of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain.” If there’s a defining quality to The Edenfred Files, it’s that the musicians are never in any rush to get to their destination, which makes their arrival all the more rewarding.