Performance by Alan Harris is always something of a seduction. The musician has a voice like soft fur and treats his guitar like a woman. While the left leg keeps time, shoulders shift, occasionally, an arm rises. Harris otherwise barely moves, placing focus on sound and lyric. Backed by an accomplished band, this evening slip/slides between jazz, blues, funk, and songbook.
The first two selections meander way outside melody, lyrics increasingly lost to speed and texture. It’s not until the third, we feel a groove/have any sense of where we are.
“Last time I saw Jeannine/She looked just like a royal queen/And she cruised by/With some wealthy guy/In a Cadillac limousine…” Harris sings. Vocal is sinuous, elongated by hum. Drummer Shirazette Tinnin wields flat brushes like no one else. Eyes close, head tilts back – she’s inside the music. Arcoiris Sandoval’s piano arrives hard and fast. Nimrod Speaks’ bass confidently resonates. “Last time I saw Jeannine/The dollar signs stood in between…” (“Jeannine” Eddie Jefferson)
Eddie Jefferson was a purveyor of vocalese, a musical style in which lyrics are set to an instrumental, solo composition. It’s an elusive definition and one Harris doesn’t explain. Nor, alas, does he tell us anything about either of his honorees.
I suspect Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to The Moon” is an example of songbook sung as vocalese. The tune is barely recognizable, lyric seems purposefully accented off traditional syllable. Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie” follows suit, though here parlando and scat like a horn make the approach recognizable.
In a nod to Nat King Cole, “I Wish You Love” (Charles Trenent) sways with signature, muted vibrato. Instrumental piano ornamentally raises it a notch, but stays blessedly within recognizable framework before we return to the heart of the song. “Non Dimenticar” – Do Not Forget – embodies finesse shared by Harris and Cole. (P. G. Redi – Italian lyrics Michele Galdieri/ English lyrics Shelley Dobbins)
“I Remember You” (Victor Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer) offers more romance. Performed with anniversary dance pace and sincerity, it lands like a feather. “Dolarise” ( Antônio Almeida/Dorival Caymmi) is pristine interpretation. Harris’ intimate voice wraps itself around Portuguese as if a native. Tinnin’s percussion is gorgeous.
“Nature Boy” (Eden Ahbez) was, in 1948, the first song recorded by Nat King Cole. Piano and drums usher us in like hummingbirds on steroids. It’s tribal jazz. Percussion, replete with consummate cajon, is again wonderful. Harris weaves a spell. Scatting arrives Bobby McFerrin style.
The artist’s own “Miami,” a sultry conjuring of slow, lapping waves, advances and recedes with grace. Muffled percussion and undulating bass create footprints in the sand. His “Black Coffee” is slide blues with guitar emulating vocal. Slow, stroll beat and insouciant attitude make it cool.
We also hear “Blue Was Angry” from Harris’ musical Cross That River, the story of a runaway slave tuned cowboy making his way west. Rhythm is infectious, lyric driven by a life or death chase.
Tonight’s choices seem split by songs Harris wants to sing and those related to the show’s title. It feels disjointed, without clear intention. Fine musicianship pervades nonetheless.
Photos by Frank Stewart
A Tale of Two Kings-The Genius of Eddie Jefferson and the Elegance of Nat King Cole
Shirazette Tinnin-drums/cajon, Arcoiris Sandoval- piano, Nimrod Speaks- bass
July 10, 2019
Broadway at 60th Street 5th floor