The Electrifying Eddie Harris (4 Men With Beards 2001, 4M106, originally released 1968 on Atlantic Records)
From Aural Innovations #20 (July 2002)
The 1960s was an era of great change in African American Classical Music (called by some "Jazz"), as artists discovered and explored many different approaches to the music, which had previously been tied to the BeBop conventions of the 40s and 50s. Some players adopted and advanced a sound and technique eventually to be identified as "Free Jazz," or incorporated the rhythms/Bass Vamps and Electronics of Rock to create "Fusion." Others began to incorporate these innovations and combine them with the "Funk" movement that had risen in the bands of Horace Silver, Art Blakey and CannonBall Adderley, and in the Funky Organ trios of Jimmy Smith, and the highly underrated works of Guitarist Grant Greene and Pianist Les McCann, both as sidemen and leaders!
Born 1934 in Chicago, Saxophonist Eddie Harris came to prominence in the mid-1960s, recording a brace of LPs for Atlantic which featured his Stan Getz/Coleman Hawkins/John Coltrane/Sonny Rollins - influenced Tenor Saxophone Work augmented by use of Electronics within loose (in the sense that much Jamming and soloing is done by single-voice instruments and piano), Blues-influenced "funk" band situations.
Released in 1968, this LP is indicative of an approach to music which enjoyed much commercial acclaim during the era (an in many ways, is the precursor of "Superstars such 70s Grover Washington Jr, 80s Najee, or even contemporary artists like Shadique and Wyclef Jean) Although Harris uses the (then) revolutionary Varitone Saxophone (a conventional Selmer Tenor instrument which had a built-in pickup, and an Octave Divider that allowed a second voice with 2 Octaves below range), the main attraction of this release are the band members and sidemen used on the date!
Pianist Jodie Christian (one of the founders of Chicago's AACM), Bassist Melvin Jackson and Drummer Richard Smith comprise Harris' working unit as displayed on the tracks "Theme in Search of a Movie," "Judie's Theme" and "I Don't want No One But You". Although "Theme" is a throwaway mishmash of a John Williams-like string arrangement and some interesting sounds by the Varitone, "Judie's Theme" and "No One sizzle and cook, with great steamy Tenor Work and a couple of bright, stylish solos by Pianist Christian, as the players tease the melody, and engage in crafty harmonic/thematic progression within the rhythm section!
On "Spanish Bull" and "Listen Here", the band includes Percussionist Ray Barretto and Joe Wholetz on Latin Percussion instruments; both drive along the 6/8 vamp on "Spanish Bull" with great energy, as well as a tasteful experience, which displays an awesome instrumental technique. On both, Harris blows with authority, even indulging in some "Coltranisms" on "Spanish Bull"; "Listen Here" is one of Eddie's best known tunes (a Jazz Real Book standard, and often used as an exercise in Saxophone tutorials.
"Sham Time" is the LP's highlight, on which the six are combined with a horn section comprised of King Curtis and David "FatHead" Newman on Tenor Saxophones, Haywood Henry on Baritone Saxophone, and Melvin Laste and Joe Newman on Trumpets. This tune is a jaunty Calypso-type riff, full of the "Greens, Fatback and Grits" sound that made this music so popular with the masses! The trio of Tenors create the massive sound so associated with the soul of the African Experience in America, with Heywood Henry (a veteran of many years standing, who had played with Count Basie's Orchestra, and the R & B bands of Johnny Otis, Peewee Crayton and Ray Charles, as well as appearing on many Blues and early Rock recordings made by Chess records in 1950-1960s Chicago).
Throughout, Harris' use of the Varitone Saxophone is compelling, and he developed some techniques that thoroughly integrate the electronics with his already warm and appealing sound. Harris was to continue to work in this area, releasing the follow-up LP "Plug Me In" in 1969, which became a major seller at a time the music was ailing financially. He would continue this approach, eventually teaming up with Chicago Pianist Les McCann, with whom he recorded the Hit LPs "Live at Montreaux" and "Swiss Movement," all for the Atlantic Records label.
This reissue is superb, with an excellent pressing on 20-gram vinyl by 4 Men, and should be a good seller to the DJ/Acid Jazz community, or to anyone seeking interesting examples of the diversity of the music made in the 1960s.
For more information you can contact 4 Men With Beards c/o Runt LLC; PO Box 2947; San Francisco, CA 94126.
Reviewed by Doug Walker