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African Tarantella

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

African Tarantella by Stefon Harris

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Since establishing himself as the most exciting vibraphonist of his generation, Stefon Harris has strived to establish himself as an exciting conceptualist as well. He overextended himself with his 70-minute Grand Unification Theory (2003), written for a 12-member ensemble, but creates something warmly cohesive in reworking selections from Duke Ellington's "New Orleans Suite" (1970) and "Queen's Suite" (1959) and crowning them with excerpts from his own Ellington-minded "Gardner Meditations." There is no lack of Dukish flavor here--not with trombonist Steve Turre's muted growls, clarinetist Greg Tardy's emulations of the great Jimmy Hamilton and bassist Derrick Hodge's percussive nod to the early Ellington bassist memorialized on Duke's "Portrait of Wellman Braud." But Harris is after more of a classical feel with his use of cello, viola and flute. The atmosphere can get a bit too rarified for Ellington, but this 12-person cast gets his bluesy, shifting overtones right and the interplay between the leader and pianist Xavier Davis energizes the sound--especially on the hypnotic "Sunset and the Mockingbird" from the 1959 suite. Harris' lovely, shimmering "African Tarentella" makes you want to hear the rest of "The Gardner Meditations," a commissioned work written while he was in residence at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in its entirety. --Lloyd Sachs

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Thanks For The Beautiful Land On The Delta
  2. Portrait Of Wellman Braud
  3. Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies
  4. Sunset And The Mocking Bird
  5. The Single Petal Of A Rose
  6. Memoirs Of A Frozen Summer
  7. African Tarantella
  8. Dancing Enigma
  9. Unlisted


Product Details

  • Audio CD (November 22, 2011)
  • Imported ed. edition
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Blue Note
  • Run Time: 55 minutes
  • ASIN: B000HKDEAQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,540 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Even though the vibraphone and marimba are established "jazz" instruments there have been relatively few high profile players associated with them. The short list would include Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Gary Burton, Roy Ayers, Steve Nelson, and Bobby Hutcherson.

With six Blue Note albums as a leader to his credit, Albany native Stefon Harris is one of a handful of young vibe players exploring the potential of the instrument while building upon its often underappreciated legacy.

With his most recent release, "African Tarantella....Dances with Duke" Harris re-envisions movements from two suites composed by Duke Ellington. Also included is a disc-closing trio of original compositions from his recently commissioned work entitled "The Gardner Meditations."

With his own compositions in place first, Harris embarked upon selecting the material that would round out the disc. "I picked the Ellington compositions I thought would best align with my overall concept," he notes. "In arranging the Ellington pieces I tried not to stray to far from his intentions; I wanted to make sure that I was juxtaposing my compositional sound with that of Duke's."

Opting for a chamber jazz ensemble, the group is rounded out with piano, bass, drums, clarinet, trombone, flute, viola, and cello, instead of a more traditional big band in an Ellington mold. Thus, much of the stamp that Harris places on selections from Duke's "The New Orleans Suite" and "The Queen's Suite" is to be heard through his use of the group's instrumentation.

Ellington's music is a seemingly effortless amalgam of styles which range from jazz to classical into which he also frequently incorporated touches of blues, gospel, and world music.
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Stefon Harris's _African Tarantella_ is a good, solid release by the vibist. It's not as accessible as _Evolution_ or as virtuosic as Grand Unification Theory, but it is one of the best interpretations of Duke Ellington's work in recent years. A must-buy for his fans, and a safe buy for all others.
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Prior to buying this album, I was fortunate enought to hear Stefon Harris and his nonette play the music live. It was one of the best live jazz performances that I have heard lately, and the album is as good or better!

Several things stand out. First is Harris' obvious virtuosity. I have seen Milt Jackson live and Harris doesn't take a back seat. He plays the vibes and marimba simultaneously, and at amazing tempi. He isn't just a virtuoso though, but a very creative arranger and improviser.

The instrumentation is very interesting: viola and cello, trombone, flute, clarinet, drums, bass and piano. This gives the album a wonderful tonal pallette. The musicians are wonderful too; Terreon Gully on drums may be the best drummer that I have heard live, and I've been lucky enough to hear Buddy Rich, Jeff Hamilton and some of the other top drummers in jazz. Also outstanding is pianist Xavier Davis and trombonist Steve Turre.

My favorite tracks are adaptations of Duke Ellington creations: three numbers from the New Orleans Suite and two from the Queen's Suite. I am less enamoured of Harris' compositions.

Harris is terrific as an improviser, arranger and performer. He, along with some other young jazz titans, give me comfort that jazz is still alive and vital for years to come.
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I urge each of you to pick a copy of the new Stefon Harris album "African Tarantella: Dances with Duke" on Blue Note Records.

This album is amazing and it has very nice reworking of some of Duke Ellington's compositions on it. I think, especially after hearing this outstanding album, that jazz has a bright future ahead of it thanks to Stefon Harris.

The lineup for this album are the following musicians:

Stefon Harris - vibraphone, marimba
Xavier Davis - piano
Derrick Hodge - bass
Terreon Gully - drums
Steve Turre - trombone
Anne Drummond - flute
Greg Tady - clarinet
Junah Chung - viola
Louise Dubin - cello

Track listing:

From The New Orleans Suite by Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn
1. Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta
2. Portrait of Wellman Braud
3. Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies

From The Queen's Suite by Duke Ellington
4. Sunset and the Mocking Bird
5. Single Pedal of a Rose

From The Gardner Meditations by Stefon Harris
6. Memoirs of a Frozen Summer
7. African Tarantella
8. Dancing Enigma

The recording of this album is also something to talk about. The production is very well done. The engineering is fantastic, but all of these things are expected on a prestigous jazz label like Blue Note.

Stefon Harris has really crafted a beautiful album full of fascinating rhythms, textures, and most of all compositions. All of the musicians have done a remarkable job with this album. Some highlights for me are "Portrait of Wellman Braud," "Single Pedal Of A Rose," and the title track, but in all honesty all of the tunes are inspiring and interesting.

Don't hesitate for a second and pick this album up.
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