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Blueprints of Jazz Vol. 2

Billy Harper
Talking House

Saxophonist Billy Harper is the leader on the second volume of the Blueprints of Jazz series. He’s built his solid reputation over many decades with bandleaders such as Art Blakey and Max Roach. Interestingly, the best-known “sideman” on this recording is poet Amiri Baraka, who declaims a politicized history of jazz in three parts. “Amazing Grace,” from the liner notes, was apparently the original title piece for this CD and features the leader’s all-too-rare singing, with saxophone overdubbed so that he can also sing through his instrument with himself.
Harper burns through the other eight tracks here, all originals, with intelligence and passion.

Aaron Scott, perhaps best known for his tenure with McCoy Tyner, is driving on “Cast the First Stone” while delicately shading the ballad “Thoughts and Slow Actions.” The latter piece features wordless vocals by Harper and the warmest synthesized orchestral sound I can remember by his longtime pianist, Francesca Tanksley. Horn players Keyon Harrold and Charles McNeal, and bassists Clarence Seay and Louie Spears, also contribute to this fine date. This CD is highly recommended to modern jazz listeners, with the caveat that Harper’s featuring of Baraka here, while meaningful, may not appeal to all.