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Harry Connick Jr.: Occasion

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Despite its overuse, the notion that great jazz sounds like a conversation between its makers continues to ring true, and Harry Connick Jr.’s latest is further evidence. Returning to the Marsalis label for the second installment of the Connick on Piano series, Hollywood Harry pares down the instrumentation from the quartet on 2003’s Other Hours to match himself with saxophonist (and label boss) Branford Marsalis for Occasion’s set of 13 intriguing duos.

Reactionary playing dominates the record, but the concept runs far deeper than anything like a musical question-and-answer session. As Connick abruptly shifts from languid tones to more lively movements, Marsalis follows in quick, brilliant step, and the result is a set of music that feels off-the-cuff but never sloppy or dashed-off.

Nearly each successive track signals a change in mood, from the old-timey New Orleans riffing of “Spot” to the pensive balladry of “I Like Love More,” from the crawling pace of a bluesy “Win” to the bouncy pulse of the vaguely Blue Train-y “Virgoid.”

Simultaneously cerebral and playful, and with hands chock full of inventiveness, Connick uses this release to explore space and harmony with a wonderfully sympathetic partner, and reaffirms the idea that his best records are made with his mouth shut.