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Lafayette Harris, Jr.: You Can’t Lose With the Blues (Savant)

A review of the Baltimore-bred, Manhattan-based pianist's trio album

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Lafayette Harris, Jr., You Can't Lose With the Blues
The cover of You Can’t Lose With the Blues by Lafayette Harris, Jr.

Can’t lose? Well, not if you command a soulful touch and a wealth of resources, something that Lafayette Harris Jr., bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Lewis Nash demonstrate time and again on this intimate, colorfully programmed trio session.

Give Harris, the Baltimore-bred, Manhattan-based pianist, a fundamental blues progression and it won’t sound fundamental for long. Without compromising a familiar theme’s emotional or bop-ish slant, he never fails to offer fresh perspectives, whether introducing lyrical melodic variations, vibrant octave shifts, or orchestral-shaded codas. Of course, he consistently benefits from the exceptionally well-matched pairing of Washington and Nash, veteran session mates who shine in a wide variety of interpretations—a haunting take on Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and an invigorating reboot of Charlie Parker’s “Bloomdido,” for example. Subtle ornamentation, rhythmically charged sprints, and delightful exchanges and turnarounds are in copious supply.

Harris’ reconfiguring of DeBarge’s “Love Me in a Special Way” fits in surprisingly well here, but it’s no match for the vintage tunes associated with Bull Moose Jackson, Louis Jordan, and Duke Ellington. Or for that matter, the album’s title track, which Harris composed for Houston Person. Suffice to say, it’s performed here with ample authority. Then again, the same can be said for Harris’ “The Juicy Blues,” which serves as the album’s swinging, bass-resonating closer, or the pianist’s deeply expressive solo arrangement of Percy Mayfield’s signature lament, “Please Send Me Someone to Love.”

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Mike Joyce

A former editor of JazzTimes, Mike Joyce has written extensively on jazz, blues, country, and pop music for The Washington Post, Maryland and Washington, D.C. public television stations, and other outlets.