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Artist: Donald Harrison, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham
Performance date: April 25, 2005
Publication: New York Times

A New Orleans Saxophonist, Plus a Bass and a Wild Card


Published: April 28, 2005

A few days ago the saxophonist Donald Harrison was in his hometown, New Orleans, working straight through the weekend's Jazz Fest. He sang Mardi Gras Indian chants with a brass-band group bedecked in purple feathers, played bebop with a straight jazz quartet and collaborated with the jam-band musicians Eric Krasno and Will Bernard. But on Tuesday night he was in New York, at the Blue Note in a jacket and tie, with the bassist Ron Carter and the drummer Billy Cobham.

Mr. Cobham is the wild card, and it's not unlike Mr. Harrison, who has built a career on drawing from many different kinds of rhythm, to use him. In the 1970's, with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and subsequently the A-list of jazz-rock fusion players, Mr. Cobham was a metaphor for brawn. He walloped around a large kit of oversize drums, willing himself into position as a frontline instrument alongside guitars and electric keyboards. Since the start of the 1990's, he has gone back to acoustic-jazz formats, using a flexible, wide-technique style that most closely resembles Tony Williams's. But he still likes to drop a depth charge in the water to see the splash, and doesn't mind the disruptive result.

Saxophone trios are difficult jobs, with the possibility of exhilaration; they're built on stamina and a constant stream of ideas, in the absence of a chordal instrument. Even though this band has made a very good record together ("Heroes" on the Nagel-Heyer label in 2002), they were still feeling around for a grip Tuesday at the Blue Note.

Playing one of Mr. Harrison's tunes, and otherwise bebop and standards - Oscar Pettiford's "Blues in the Closet," Sonny Rollins's "Oleo" and "I'll Remember April" and "Easy Living" - their music was riven by the choppiness of Mr. Cobham's playing and ultimately deflated by it, however hard Mr. Carter worked to batten down the pulse, however imaginatively Mr. Harrison played some of his reharmonizations and soloing patterns. They are working on a method, one in which saxophone and bass surge ahead in the little pockets of space that Mr. Cobham opens up for them within his laser beams of playing. It's wasn't quite there yet.

The group will continue at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street,in Greenwich Village, through Sunday night; (212) 475-8592.


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