Stefon Harris: Live last night
By Mike Joyce
Jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris and Blackout opened its performance at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Saturday night with a variation on George Gershwin's "Gone, Gone, Gone" that could have been re-dubbed "Gone Down U Street." It wasn't newly arranged so much as thoroughly overhauled, stamped by Harris' four-mallet attack and riddled with drummer Terreon Gully's go-go beats.
(Melding genres and a myriad of influences, after the jump.)
Moments later, after noting that his band is a product of myriad influences -- jazz, soul, pop, gospel, what have you -- Harris led the quintet through a imaginatively orchestrated and vigorously propelled collection of tunes that often crossed or melded genres.
Most of the pieces were drawn from the band's latest CD, "Urbanus," and featured Gully in a prominent role, juxtaposing shaded percussion or a kind of off-hand swing with splintered funk rhythms and dynamic, full-kit surges. At times, when alto saxophonist Casey Benjamin favored a keening tone, Gully helped evoked the days of free jazz interplay.
But much of the music was more tuneful or rooted, especially the Buster Williams ballad "Christina," sung by Benjamin via vocoder, and Gully's "Tanktified," a resonating gospel showcase for keyboardist Sullivan Fortner. Bassist Ben Williams, who won the Thelonious Monk Institute Competition last month at the Kennedy Center, rounded out the ensemble sound with considerable finesse and drive.
In addition to displaying his virtuosity on vibes -- at one point freely improvising and scatting at length -- Harris also played the marimba. During "Langston's Lullaby," a tune dedicated to Harris' newborn son, the wood-key instrument's warmer tones helped sustain an entrancing effect.
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