The Best Of Eddie Harris

Eddie Harris

Atlantic Records, 1989

http://www.eddieharris.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/10/2004

Quick, name the artist who issued the first jazz album ever certified gold.

Miles Davis would be a good guess; so would a half-dozen other jazz greats of the late '50s-early '60s era. The answer, however, is Eddie Harris.

The success of Harris's debut album, 1961's Exodus To Jazz, was considered an amazing fluke at the time; Harris was a complete unknown making his debut album for an r&b label, not to mention the fact that they signed him as pianist, yet he played nothing but tenor sax on the album.

That was the first big clue that Eddie Harris was not going to play the music industry's "fulfilling expectations" game. Harris is a musical chameleon who explored the outer reaches of his audience's ability to adapt in a 35-year career that veered from straight bop to electric jazz to jazz-funk and even a stab at a somewhat raunchy nightclub comedy act. That said, during the '60s, he was one of the most melodic, inventive sax players on the scene, and this 1969 collection -- whose 1989 CD version adds a generous five tracks and 25 minutes to the original LP -- is all the evidence required.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

These tunes have an innate swing and panache that turns even epic free-for-alls like the hard-bopping "Freedom Jazz Dance" (all 9:39 of it) into compelling entertainment. The other principal highlight here -- and the most notable addition to the CD reissue of this album -- is "Sham Time," a bruising workout featuring a nine-man band (including six horns) that milks every groove and spotlights superb soloing.

It's easy to see from this album, however, that Harris was never going to be satisfied being pigeonholed into any single genre or style. Why else record a string-drenched piece of schmaltzy Hollywood jazz like Charles Stepney's "Theme In Search of A Movie," doubtless considered heresy by traditional jazz purists?

The fun part of listening to this album - besides the finger-snapping grooves of cuts like "Live Right Now" and "Love Theme From 'The Sandpiper' (The Shadow Of Your Smile)" -- is hearing Harris defy expectations again and again, ever the determined explorer in search of a new vein of sound to mine.

For example, the closing "Is It In?" is a snazzy excursion into electrified jazz-funk that's miles (pun intended) from where this album started out. Meanwhile, the live cut "Movin' On Out" shows off the potential of one of Harris's major innovations -- the electric sax, sweet-toned and full of sound-fattening echo. It's not for everyone, but it's intriguing and all Eddie Harris's own.

Perhaps the highlight of Harris' career was his all-too-brief teaming with Les McCann at 1969's Montreaux Jazz festival, chronicled on the album Swiss Movement, co-credited to McCann and Harris. That album is a must for anyone with any interest at all in jazz. If you're looking for more, though, The Best Of Eddie Harris might make a good next purchase -- a concise summary of the 1965-73 middle phase of one of the most talented and innovative sax players of the modern jazz era.

Rating: B+

User Rating: C


Comments

The first jazz concert I ever saw featured Eddie Harris and George Benson before he started singing. George Benson was awsome, but Eddie harris was hilarious. His music was awsome but the comedy quips he did through the whole show was a bonus. I can see why he tried the nightclub act. He could have easily been a comedian. I'm going to get this album.
I clicked the mouse too fast, I meant to give this album an A.








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