Donald Harrison/Ron Carter/Billy Cobham – This Is Jazz – Half Note Records HN4550, 56:22 ****1/2:
(Donald Harrison – alto saxophone; Ron Carter – bass; Billy Cobham – drums)
This Is Jazz represents the third collaboration for the Harrison/Carter/Cobham trio. Heroes (2004) and New York Cool: Live At The Blue Note (2005) were acclaimed releases, and established a chemistry among these veterans. Their first encounter was on 2002’s Art Of Four. That quartet included pianist James Weidman. Like Sonny Rollins, the ensemble sought to eliminate chordal instrumentation to pursue unrestrained freedom. Harrison (Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Terence Blanchard) was renowned for his gifted alto play and as a composer in jazz and hip hop. His eclectic recording catalogue has introduced him to a variety of musicians. Ron Carter (Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver) is one of the world’s greatest double bassist and has recorded as a band leader for over fifty years. Billy Cobham (Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Stanley Turrentine) is regarded as jazz fusion’s premier innovative drummer. In March 2011 they performed at the Blue Note in New York.
The set opens with Ron Carter’s “Cut And Paste”. Harrison powers through a fast-paced intro in tandem with Carter’s salty bass. Cobham joins in with a furious syncopated flurry, and the jam explodes. The alto solo is sharp and freewheeling, before Carter takes over on bass. His play mirrors the intensity, and when coupled with Cobham’s brush drumming, punctuates the song with a post-bop flair. A second Carter composition, “MSRP” employs a spry blues vibe. Harrison gets to exert a soulful coloration that is reminiscent of the early ‘60s bop masters. In addition to providing rhythm and bottom support, Carter manages to execute another deft solo. All three players have an intuitive feel for each other. Cobham’s fills and solos are precise and in lockstep. The audience could have been listening to Beat Generation jazz.
There are a number of surprises. A cover of “You Are My Sunshine” is rendered as a six-minute, evocative bass solo. Then a transition into the Miles Davis Quintet 1953 classic, “Seven Steps To Heaven” sets up an eruptive swing celebration. Harrison pushes his alto to the sonic edge with crisp notation and frantic shifts His runs are very energetic and spontaneous. Cobham delivers a textured solo that alters the rhythm and pace.
The absence of a piano or guitar draws a lot of attention to the sax in this lineup. On the perpetual Duke-Gershwin standard, “I Can’t Get Started” Harrison demonstrates how to play lead on a ballad. Establishing a fluid diverse style, he weaves the melody around different moods with delicacy. Whether in unison with the trio or through an extended improvisation, he is inventive. The final track, “Treme Swagger” (an original by all three members) approximates a smooth, funky New Orleans excursion. Harrison, an actual Mardi Gras Indian Chief and producer on HBO’s Treme, adapts cool jazz motifs to visceral street tempos with understated flair. Cobham shines on a longer solo before the soulful wail of the alto struts home with the indelible bass of Carter. With three projects already released, Harrison/Carter/Cobham are becoming an institution. This Is Jazz sounds better every time you play it.
TrackList: Cut&Paste; MSRP; You Are My Sunshine; Seven Steps To Heaven; I Can’t Get Started; Treme Swagger
— Robbie Gerson
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered live vinyl of a great tenor saxophonist.