Friday, July 07, 2006

Alex Harding and Blutopia - The Calling (Jazzaway, 2006)

Baritone saxophonist Harding and his band Blutopia (pianist Lucian Ban, bassist Brad Jones and drummer Nasheet Waits) play a gutsy blend of modern jazz with a fine mix of original uptempo cookers, midtempo pieces and ballads. The opening track, "The Calling" establishes a deep pocket and adds a little bit of overblown saxophone to keep the excitement level high. "Cultural Warrior" features Hardings deep baritone and Waits' percussion backed by spare piano, getting a spacey and haunted feel. This song has the noirish, cinematic sensibility of a dark crime film set on the rain-drenched streets of a city long after dark. "Quirky" earns its title with a herky-jerky theme played on baritone and a full bodied piano interlude. Harding takes a deep, exploratory solo which approaches free territory, but never steps completely away from the melody. A quick paced but low key drum solo from the always inventive Waits leads the band back into the melody. "Spirit" is a gospel tinged ballad with deep spiritual saxophone backed by soft piano and drums.

"Estonia" has a low key opening with some nifty percussion work, while "Sketch" picks up the pace with a Monk like theme. Punchy drums and piano are at the forefront with Harding improvising briskly over them. This is a very percussive based song with the leader urging the band on with vocal exhortations a la Mingus. "Southern Dawn" takes thing back down to a simmer with a gently swinging mid tempo composition which has some hints of gospel music. "Blast" comes out full force as you would expect from the title with Harding digging deep and pushed hard by percussive piano accompaniment and excellent drumming. "Shades of Ellegua" ends the album with some bubbling baritone and hand percussion. This is a very well played and passionate album which should please fans of classic musicians like Charles Mingus and Art Blakey, while staying thoroughly modern and forward looking at the same time.

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