Thursday, October 04, 2007

Rufus Harley - Courage: The Atlantic Recordings (Rhino Handmade, 2006)

Primarily known as one of the few jazz musicians to adopt the bagpipes, Harley was a multi talented musician who also performed on saxophones and flutes as well. This collection re-releases the four albums Harley made for Atlantic in the mid to late 1960's. Disc One combines 1966's Bagpipe Blues and 1967's Scotch and Soul. On these early records, he covers fairly traditional material, from a haunting take on "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" to works more suited to his adopted instrument on "Bagpipe Blues" and "Kerry Dancers." The nature of the bagpipes led Harley to develop a unique droning style that gave a hypnotic near-Eastern feel to his music and also influenced that way he played the saxophone. Disc Two of this collection combines 1967's A Tribute to Courage and 1970's Kings and Queens, finding Harley branching out to embrace psychedelic and pop material. He pays tribute to the musicians and leaders who have influenced him, "About Trane " is one of his finest saxophone features while the bagpipes take center stage on the haunting "Tribute to Courage (JFK)." It is not surprising that Harley should compose a nod to Kennedy, for it was when he saw bagpipers playing during the late president's funeral procession that he hit on the idea of using them as an improvising jazz instrument. The popular material is very interesting to listen to with bagpipes combining and contrasting with swirling organ on songs like "Moon River" and "Eight Miles High." I found this music to be really enjoyable, the combination of well grounded hard bop with the exotic sounds of the bagpipes make the results irresistible. This is a wonderful collection of music, that highlights a true original who braved the scorn of critics to make a unique contribution to music. Rhino has done an excellent job re-mastering these out of print LPs , adding excellent liner notes and well designed packaging. Harley died in August of last year and this fine set will go a long way towards securing his legacy in jazz.

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