This Is Jazz is the most consistently enjoyable of the three albums Donald Harrison has recorded with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Cobham. Alto saxophonist Harrison, a standout player in settings ranging from the Jazz Messengers to his own neo-bop outfits to his Mardi Gras Indian bands, has rarely sounded as free and forceful and charismatic as he does sailing through the open spaces here.
Recorded at the Blue Note, the album opens with two compositions by Carter and a solo rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” by the bassist. Though he and Cobham are both in fine form, it’s Harrison’s unflagging performance that carries the day-and might leave less-than-hardcore Carter fans wishing for another band effort in place of “Sunshine.”
At 51, Harrison has so much character in his playing, and personalizes bop tradition in such a fully formed, unshowy manner, he seems on the road to becoming the Von Freeman of his generation. His take on “I Can’t Get Started” peels off layer after layer of bop expression, embodying both Bird and Prez. And it’s hard to recall anyone making more of Ornette Coleman’s insistent, self-sustaining melodicism than Harrison does on an infectious reading of Miles Davis’ “Seven Steps to Heaven.”