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Lafayette Harris, Jr. Is 'Hangin' With the Big Boys' on New Airmen Records Release [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com on May 13, 2016 05:25 PM EDT

Pianist/Composer Lafayette Harris, Jr. is Hangin' with the Big Boys on his new Airmen Records release. Actually, the one big boy he's hanging with is Houston Person, 81, a classic oh-so-lyrical -- and quite persuasive -- tenor sax man who can elicit goose-bumps with his tone. Harris rightly defers to him yet sprinkles the sweetly swinging session with clusters of notes up and down the 88s in a soulful style bound to woo both jazz and lite-jazz fans alike.

There's no rolling of one's eyes this time at the umpteenth versions of Ray Noble's 1934 "The Very Thought Of You" and Irving Berlin's 1926 "Blue Skies" (with playful vocals by the perfectly named Jazzmeia Horn and Noel Whippler) because, since these melodies are so implanted in human DNA at this point, to hear them in a master's hands like Person, is to appreciate anew the universal longing of the former and the optimistic cheeriness of the latter. (Person also informs Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood" with his gargantuan presence.)

You want a hit single? "Drinking Wine Blues" is a Harris original sung by Horn. She plays it cute and like a temptress as she goes to the top of her vocal register like Minnie Ripperton on nitrous oxide. "I'm drinking my wine/I'm feeling real fine/And doing this all of the time." Now that's a lady I'd like to meet!

Harris composed the title tune back in the 1990s when he, Terell Stafford and Cindy Blackman (now Cindy Blackman-Santana as she has grown to be a monster drummer with her husband Carlos), played together. They also did "We In the House," a tribute to fallen drummer Tony Williams who had just passed away, revived here with alto and soprano saxophonist Caleb Curtis stepping up. The 1937 Gershwin closer, "They All Laughed," features trumpeter Antoine Drye.

Harris acquits himself admirably, the two singers are adorable, the rhythm section of bassist George Delancey and drummer Will Terrill stay out of the way and provide the functional movement and bottom. I would've liked to have heard Houston Person on more than just four out of 11 tracks but that may be quibbling. This is one fine effort.

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TagsLafayette Harris, Reviews, Airmen Records, Houston Person