Birdland is BACK, upstairs now, downstairs come autumn.
On the occasion of Allan Harris’ latest CD release, Kate’s Soulfood, a tribute to boyhood in Harlem, the artist packs every inch of this venue’s stage with musicians/sound. Results saturate the 70s Motown vibe his original compositions evoke.
Harris is decked out in glitter sneakers, a ruffled shirt and his ubiquitous hat. His appealing, dusky vocals, though intermittently obscured, arrive soulful and precise. Sincere, genial patter fills us in on song dedications and derivations. Gestures are organic.
The brass driven “Wash Away My Sins” is part gospel, part R & B segueing from “You can buy many things in life/But you can’t buy another soul…” to the familiar “You’re my woman, I’m your man.” I didn’t catch the connection. Harris and the group are having a good time; rhythm is robust, compelling.
“Color of A Woman is Blu” was written for Harris’ wife of coming up on 44 years. “Send her roses when you’re feelin’ lonely/Give her perfume when she’s far from you…But whisper in her ear I love you/For the color of a woman is blue…” Tempo strolls. Horns act like shadows. Harris exudes romance. “That’s old school right there,” he comments. Lyrics are plain spoken, homey, sometimes cliché.
In “I Grew Up” we get to hear Grégoire Mare’s excellent harmonica. The room claps time. Repetition arrives like a mantra. “99 Miles” is an on-the-road song. Brass wraps each verse in wide ribbon. “There ain’t too many jobs for a working class hero/You gotta do the best you can…”
“Shadow Man” is the funky character portrait of a Harlem denizen who took a liking to Harris as a boy: “Hair conked back, beaver skin hat, alligator shoes, and always had a honey or two with him…” is vivid. If only spoken description was part of the song lyric. Drums rivet. This one turns into a pumped up wall of sound. Tunes homogenize/lack definition with so many contributors. It’s an over-stacked deck.
The melancholy “Autumn” drifts, twirls, and dips like falling leaves. It’s light handed seduction. “New Day” is infectiously exuberant. Feet tap and heads bob all over the room. Piano steps up to the plate. Edwards resembles a bobblehead. Sala closes his eyes and grins – arms declarative as if on their own. Hall and Horne step back and forth.
Opening Photo by Hollis King
Celebrating its return, select performances at BIrdland this month will cost .99 for those who buy tickets in advance
The Allan Harris Band streams every Tuesday night at 7:30 Harlem After Dark Unplugged : facebook.com/theallanharrisband
Allan Harris – vocals
Grégoire Mare – harmonica, Arcoiris Sandoval – piano & MD, Irwin Hall – sax , Alphonso Horne – trumpet Jhair Sala – percussion, Norman Edwards – drums , Alicyn Yaffee – guitar , Marty Kenney – bass