Wednesday, December 26, 2018

For "Sonic Creed," Stefon Harris puts together a mellow program featuring his regular band Blackout

The vibraphonist Stefon Harris has helped extend the historical roster of major jazz stylists on mallet percussion.
Cover art: The severe visual presentation  seems at odds with the music inside.
This year he has released "Sonic Creed" (Motema) with his band Blackout, and is touring on the strength of the album. He will appear at the Purdue Jazz Festival on Jan. 18; and, as a solo player and working with students, at Butler University April 3 and 4

"Sonic Creed" represents him in mid-career (he's 45) as a receptive bandleader with a way of showcasing multiple lines, many of them rhythmic, simultaneously — but without clutter. The catchy Bobby Timmons/Oscar Brown Jr. song "Dat Dere," opens this disc amiably but with distinction.

In the front line, Harris and saxophonist Casey Benjamin display a compatibility that runs throughout the program. The two don't shy away from melodic invention, they are assertive without aggressiveness, and they complement arrangements that leave so much to the percussionists (Terreon Gully and Pedrito Martinez).

I could do without the atmospheric "Let's Take a Trip to the Sky," which features the floaty vocalism of Jean Baylor, but just about everything else sounds attractive. "Chasin' Kendall" has some flavorful bass clarinet by Felix Peikli, who supplements Benjamin in the reed department on most tracks, and a warm, cogent marimba solo by the leader.

Benjamin is outstanding in Horace Silver's "Cape Verdean Blues," a slightly exotic blues with a rhythmically unconventional profile. The percussionists forge a brilliant partnership in "Song of Samson," and a sweet-toned   Benjamin highlights Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away." "Gone Too Soon" is a striking conclusion to the program as Harris concocts a Michael Jackson tribute duet with the up-and-coming Joseph Doubleday on marimba.

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