Billy Harper Live on Tour in the Far East, Volume 1
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- Released: August 1, 1994
- Originally Released: 2004
- Label: Steeplechase
Song previews provided courtesy of iTunes
This series of live discs mark the first recordings of what became the regular working quintet of the criminally underrated saxophonist, composer and bandleader Billy Harper. With bassist Louie Spears the new addition to the line-up, three distinct concerts were recorded on Harper's spring, 1991 tour of the Far East and released separately without any duplication of material. Volume One comes from Pusan, Korea on April 27 and while the sound isn't the best -- the bass and drums are muted and lack crispness -- the extremely high quality of the music and interaction between the players more than compensates. Harper's intense opening solo almost rushes the opening "I Do Believe" too much and it takes Eddie Henderson's trumpet to cool things down. The piece doesn't sound so much like a set-opener as a mid-set entry when both the group and the audience have settled into the music. John Coltrane's "Countdown" features Harper's long, blazing lines in duet with drummer Newman T. Baker before piano and bass enter for a taste of the classic Coltrane quartet sound on the closing cadenzas. Pianist Francesca Tanksley's "Dance In The Question" is almost the real starting point -- Henderson and Harper display their near-telepathic harmonic empathy and Baker gets a little lead space over her left-hand riff near the end. "Insight" finds Henderson tossing out long, fast solo lines over light, fluid backing from the rhythm section before Harper ups the intensity quotient with another tenor/drums duo. Yet the group has no problem turning on the tenderness (and dropping a few thrilling trills) for the ballad "If One Could Only See" or tackle a more measured, mid-tempo groove on "Croquet Ballet," another fine display of Harper & Henderson harmonies. On Tour, Vol. 1 shows an impressive musical range, great command of dynamics and is just loaded with really sharp, smart, excellent music once it hits its stride. And it's probably the least exciting of these three discs released from a tour that should have established Billy Harper's quintet as a major group in the jazz world. ~ Don Snowden
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