Harry Connick Jr.: Occasion – Harry Connick Jr., piano; Branford Marsalis, saxophones – Marsalis Music/Rounder

by | Jul 1, 2006 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Harry Connick Jr.: Occasion – Harry Connick Jr., piano; Branford Marsalis, saxophones – Marsalis Music/Rounder 11661-3313-2, 65 min. ****:

A lot of people know Harry Connick Jr. is a pretty good actor, and a lot more know he’s a pretty good Sinatra-esque jazz singer. But probably not too many realize that he’s a pretty darn good piano player as well, and he proves it on this disc of all originals with old friend and fellow New Orleans native Branford Marsalis. The disc has a very improvisational feel throughout, and proves pretty successfully that Connick’s style is not just limited to the big band-oriented endeavors of his recent past. He penned eleven of the disc’s tunes, with Marsalis taking writing credits for the other two; many of the songs have a very modern jazz feel to them, and there’s plenty of room for each player to stretch out. This is nothing new for Branford Marsalis, but is a pretty radical departure for Harry Connick Jr., whose career path always seemed to go in a much safer direction.

That’s not to imply that the music isn’t melodic in nature – nothing could be further from the truth. Branford Marsalis alternates between various tunes on tenor and soprano sax, the instrument whose inclusion is often the very hallmark of a less melodic song structure. Take, for example, the Connick tune “Spot,” which begins as a very melodic duet, then evolves into a clearly Monk-influenced Connick solo, with Marsalis providing very melodic accompaniment on soprano sax, swinging along at a very frenetic pace. Contrast that to “Valentine’s Day,” an avantgarde-tinged piece with a very slow and deliberate piano vamp, with lots of space for each instrument, and silences used to great effect. Marsalis’ playing is superb, but Harry Connick Jr. really proves that he’s no slouch either; his brilliance matches Marsalis’ note for note throughout the discs’ 13 tunes.

Sound quality of the disc is also excellent, especially considering that it was recorded and mixed in that hotbed of the modern jazz tradition, Durham, North Carolina (?). There’s an excellent representation of the recorded acoustic presented. This is a superb disc, and will definitely make you rethink Harry Connick Jr.’s place in the pantheon of current jazz artists. Very highly recommended.

Tracks: Brown World; Valentine’s Day; Occasion; Spot; I Like Love More; All Things; Win; Virgoid; Remember The Tarpon; Lose; Steve Lacy; Chanson Du Vieux Carre; Good To Be Home.

— Tom Gibbs 

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