Barry Harris – Live in Rennes – Plus Loin Music

by | Jul 31, 2010 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Barry Harris – Live in Rennes – Plus Loin Music PL4526 [Dist. by Harmonia mundi], 77:01 ****:

(Barry Harris, piano; Mathias Allamane, bass; Philippe Soirat, drums)

For fans of mainstream jazz going back to the bop era, every month that goes by without one of living legends passing on is a good month. It is even better, when a new CD comes out from a still active, vital jazz musician, whose pedigree goes back to the 1950s and even 1940s. Obviously, there are very few of these jazz elite that still publicly perform. For me, I have an informal check list of jazz musicians whom I would travel outside of the Northwest to hear. I’m feeling quite pleased that trombonist, Curtis Fuller, is actually coming in Sept. to Portland. You can bet that I will be center stage to catch Mr. Fuller.

Another native of Detroit, pianist Barry Harris, is still active, but unfortunately very seldom ventures out to the West Coast.  Knowing that, and due to the fact that Harris turned 80 years old last year, I’m planning a trip to Detroit over the Labor Day weekend to attend the Detroit Jazz Festival, primarily to have the opportunity to hear Barry play in his birthplace.

For those outside of Detroit and New York City, an opportunity to experience Barry live would be to pick up his latest CD, recorded in Rennes, France, last November at the Jazz al’Ouest Festival. Like James Moody, Lou Donaldson, Benny Golson, and a few other jazz veterans, Barry Harris likes to introduce his concert selections and many times tell stories regarding their origins. For seasoned fans of these gentlemen, this can be a bit tedious as the pre-song patter can be repetitive, but for those of us who have always wanted to see our heroes, it is a treat due to the fact  that it makes the concert a special occasion to “spend time” with our favorite musicians.

On Live in Rennes, Harris has six tracks where he shares stories and reminisces. The other fourteen tracks are Barry with his French trio playing mostly standards with three self-penned numbers. Monk, Ellington, Shearing, and Powell are honored and Barry, though slowed by age and a stroke, still shows his bop bonafides as well as swing sense that is innate throughout his playing.

George Shearing’s “She” has an easy swing that brings to mind another fellow Detroit native, the recently deceased Hank Jones. Harris’ relaxed touch is soft and his use of space rivals Jones. You immediately sense you are in the presence of a master pianist. “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” follows and Barry’s bop reading shows he can still play up-tempo at his ripe old age. “I’ll Keep Loving You” is ruminative and romantic.

Many of the other songs have this same feel of caressing the melody such as “A Time for Love”, and “My Heart Stood Still”.

“6, 5, 7, 3” and “Nascimento” both Harris’ standards get Latin treatment and audience participation and what Barry calls the “Karaoke” portion of his set such as the rhythmic handclapping from the French audience on the latter. Barry’s affection for Monk and Duke are shown on “Ruby My Dear” (taken more mainstream than Monk was noted for), and a simply gorgeous Ellington tribute, “To Duke With Love & Prelude to a Kiss.”

Detroit is noted for producing some of the best pianists in jazz history with Roland Hanna, Tommy Flanagan, and Hank Jones. We should be extra thankful that the Motor City also gave us Barry Harris. For me it’s just another month before I can sit at the altar of greatness with Barry Harris in Motown. Wow…

TrackList (songs only): She, All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm, I’ll Keep Loving You, A Time for Love, My Heart Stood Still, 6,5,7,3; Ruby My Dear, To Duke With Love & Prelude to a Kiss, Off Minor, Light Blue, Tea for Two, Nascimento, Parker’s Mood, Em-Barry-Harris-Able You

– Jeff Krow

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