A Beguiling Low Key New Release from Jazz Clarinetist Darryl Harper
One of the jazz world’s most diverse, individualistic voices on the clarinet, Darryl Harper spent two years as a member of the Regina Carter Quintet and has played with Orrin Evans, Dave Holland, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roscoe Mitchell, Freddie Bryant, Tim Warfield, Carla Cook and Uri Caine. As a bandleader, Harper has often recorded and performed in unorthodox lineups ranging from duo collaborations, to his four-clarinet octet, the C3 Project, to more standard combos including his critically acclaimed postbop group the Onus Trio. His new album The Edenfred Files – due out this June 4 on HiPNOTIC Records – takes its title from a particularly fertile period of composing at a Wisconsin artists’ retreat where Harper was invited in 2009. Joining Harper on this spare, intimate, richly melodic collection are his longtime Onus Trio bandmates, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Harry “Butch” Reed in addition to pianist Kevin Harris.
The album begins with two works for clarinet, bass and drums. The first, “Blues for Jerry” by Harper’s old music faculty colleague Vicki Wiseblatt, is a jazz waltz set to a wryly shuffling groove. Harper chooses his spots with a full, round, woody resonance, as Reed slowly builds to a crescendo. Parrish’s solo rises elegantly against Harper’s hushed, atmospheric lines. “Sirens Calling” by Parrish is a triptych depicting a series of African water spirit images, from the ripple of insects breaking the surface of the water to the eerie creak of a slave ship, bookended by a moody atmospheric interlude with dancing clarinet over Reed’s intricately hypnotic tom-tom work.
“Spindleshanks,” the first of two Harper originals, has the clarinet and piano playfully shadowing each other in steady counterpoint until the clarinet leaves the picture. Harris’ solo builds an unexpectedly apprehensive, moonlit ambience. Inspired by South Indian Carnatic vocal music, “Walking with Old Souls” has Harris contrasting jaunty ornamentation with murky low-register pedal point against Harper’s pensively sostenuto, minimalist phrasing.
The trio reinvents Julius Hemphill’s “Kansas City Line” – inspired by the saxophonist’s solo performance on the 1977 recording Blue Boyé – as a study in droll rhythmic japes winding its way from a long, tongue-in-cheek crescendo and artfully layered, shifting harmonies to a surprise ending. The Coltrane-inspired “Edenfred,” a title track of sorts, took shape as Reed sang it to the rest of the band. Alternating between easygoing, catchy funk and a nonchalant bouncy swing, Reed colors the piece with spaciously emphatic snare accents and misty cymbals as Parrish and then Harper dance overhead. The album ends with a solo piano interpretation of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” that works its way with a determined lyricism to a saturnine, gospel-inspired conclusion. It’s an aptly counterintuitive way to end this new recording from one of the most consistently unpredictable, entertaining reed players in jazz.
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