Olatuja, Trio Da Paz, Fania, Jefferson Centennial and Harris, Jazz Gallery

Ron Scott | 8/9/2018, 11:52 a.m.
The mezzo-soprano keys of Alicia Olatuja’s vocal instrument can easily dissolve into a rich honey flavored texture as she swings ...
Alicia Olatuja Contributed

Aug. 3 marked the centennial of Eddie Jefferson, whose self-styled bebop vocalese and songwriting separated him from all the other male vocalists in the jazz waters. His gravelly voice sounded like a wailing tenor saxophone, or he could rise to an alto saxophone and run the scales like Charlie Parker on “Ornithology.” His sound can also be compared with any tune played by the pianist Thelonious Monk, that percussive deep melodic tone, somewhat off beat but in time. He had a hip street sound that incorporated slang and a story relatable to the average brother on the corner.

He even turned Sly and the Family Stone’s soul funk hit “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” into a swinging bop scat medley by adding thank you shout outs to John Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Coleman Hawkins and James Moody. Unfortunately, Jefferson’s life came to an untimely end when he was shot in 1979 (age 60).

Recently, the vocalist Allan Harris released “The Genius of Eddie Jefferson” (Resilience Music), in tribute to the master of vocalese. Before this tribute, Harris was known more as a crooner with a knack for phrasing.

Since joining the jazz vocalists’ roller-coaster ride, Harris has proved to be a voyager, always exploring for exciting projects. This consistent expedition has turned him into a jazz chameleon. His varied projects have ranged from his tributes to Nat King Cole and Billy Eckstine, his Black Bar Jukebox series to his country-western project, a tribute to Black cowboys.

Tackling the repertoire of the vocalese swinger was no easy task, but Harris, a Harlem cat, welcomed the opportunity and in the process delivered an excellent personal interpretation that swings in that bebop scat thing.

He effortlessly inserts his warm personality to tunes such as “Jeannine,” “Billy’s Bounce,” “So What,” “Sister Sadie” and “Lester’s Trip to the Moon.”

One can’t attempt to get into Jefferson’s world without a hittin’ band. For this voyage, Harris is accompanied by pianist and arranger Eric Reed, bassist George DeLancey, tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore, drummer Willie Jones III and tenor saxophonist Richie Cole, a friend and former member of Jefferson’s band.

“Richie came on board with the spirit of his late friend Eddie Jefferson,” said Harris. “His playing on this project and his musings about Eddie gave me, and those involved in this recording, authenticity.”

The Jazz Gallery (1160 Broadway at 27th Street) offers a rare opportunity to see emerging young musicians performing on the outskirts of the jazz zone before they take off into stardom. There is also a string of established musicians who love to play the intimate venue, most recently, the quartet Persistence of Memory, led by drummer Kassa Overall, with pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Evan Flory-Barnes. “This is one of those organic collaborations,” said Overall. “Hopefully, we will do it again. It was a good hang. I was just the house leader.”

Each member contributed two songs, including Coltrane’s “Spy Problems,” very apropos with forceful drums, percussive piano and talkative soprano sax intermingling with deep bass lines.

Flory-Barnes contributed “Lord Let This Be the Last Time” (related to the country’s ongoing police brutality). It was midtempo in blues time with the bassist demonstrating why we will be hearing a lot more from him. He and Overall are both natives of Seattle, Wash., who are already making a distinctive path for themselves.

Iyer, accustomed to any type of setting, was the linking underpin that weaved in and out of the colorful tapestry.

The trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire played the first set. “I just texted Ambrose and asked him if he was in the neighborhood and he showed up,” said Overall. “I’m glad we had that time.”

The Jazz Gallery is a musician friendly place where anything can happen and a special guest might appear on a moment’s notice. No clashing glasses or waiters brushing by, just great music and talented musicians exploring the landscape of jazz. Visit the website www.jazzgallery.org for the calendar.