The Need’s Got To Be So Deep
The pursuit of purity is the pursuit of a state or of a body that is free of contamination by other elements. Socially speaking, the pursuit of purity is also the pursuit of mad men and women ruled by fear of the other. The vain pursuit of purity is a Sisyphean pursuit at best, whether in the formation of a more perfect union of state interests, or a cultural expression such as music.
The project of American jazz music has often been marked by pursuits of purity that have led to debates about what the idiom actually is—or isn’t. Be it the tensions between a pre-modern traditional jazz and Bebop or the shock of the new, as Miles Davis moved from Kind of Blue to Bitches Brew and the electronic versus acoustic instrument debate ensued. Other questions over the form, content and purity of Jazz have reflected the race, class, gender and other anxieties of the culture (and the purist). Is the music being played in the tradition or out? Can white men jump—in jazz? Should Jazz draw only from the wooden ladle of black American blues or the marble fountain of European classical music? Can Jazz groove—with gravitas? Can a woman really play? Can the chops of an academy-trained jazz musician be found on the bandstand or in their refrigerator? Is the ‘girl singer’ a musician? Somewhere at this moment two or more are gathered in a spirited, passionate discussion over these issues and questions about the Jazz idiom.
Throughout The Need’s Got To Be So Deep, Darryl Harper declares his conceptual, technical, compositional, and historical authority and command, and makes his perspective on what jazz is and its possibilities brilliantly apparent. Yusef Lateef’s bop-flavored composition “Water Pistol,” performed by the trio of Harper with longtime Onus collaborators Matthew Parish and Harry “Butch” Reed is filled with the polyphonic bass of Parish, wise and lively percussion of Reed, and the melodic voicing of Harper reminding us of their presence as anchors for the ensemble of musicians on The Need’s Got To Be So Deep.
One of the questions posed by Harper on his 2013 recording, The Edenfred Files, is how can a duo be an ensemble? Answers to that question abound in The Need’s Got To Be So Deep. Some of the freshest, most exciting and explorative playing and listening experiences on The Need’s Got To Be So Deep occur where only two players are featured. There are eight duos among the fifteen tracks of this two-disc recording. Four of these duos combine Harper’s clarinet with the playing of the phenomenal composer-pianist and conceptually fluid Helen Sung; pianist-composer Kevin Harris’s “Scrapbook;” Free Jazz forerunner Carla Bley’s “Postures;” Ayn Inserto’s compositional sandbox for mature musicians titled “Playtime” and Sung’s own composition “Prelude and Fugue-like.”
Harper’s extended composition, “Dances for Outcasts,” comprises yet two more of these tracks. “Prodigal Son“ and “The Fugitive” are kinetic works dynamically interpreted by percussionist I-Jen Fang on marimba and master violinist Regina Carter. Notably, “Anthem for Unity,” the clarinet and acoustic guitar duo between Harper and its composer, guitarist Freddie Bryant, is a glorious cause for repeated listening. The recurring phrases of the song, the narrative moods created by its various sections, and the playing of Harper and Bryant are at once joyfully dynamic and peaceful. The refreshing satisfaction of each duo attuned this listener’s ear to some specific relations between players in Harper’s larger ensembles on The Need’s Got to Be So Deep.
“Tale of a Suburban Cowboy,” the grand opening track written by pianist Xavier Davis, characterized by a spirited dialogue throughout the piece between Harper and the nimble fingering and harmonics of the musically multilingual pianist Lefteris Kordis, is one of a number of blues-affected compositions that bring a complex groove with the layered sophistication, power and sweetness of familiar associations between players.
The deep and dramatic shifts in tone and texture between each movement of Greg Bullen’s “Jazz Clarinet Quartet” (“Variations,” “Ballad,” “Interlude,” and “Spin”) display the composer’s broad and extensive musicology. Andy Jaffe’s “Woodwind Quintet,” a work in three movements, also exploits Harper’s chamber music sensibilities and classical music vocabularies. Jimmy Giuffre’s “The Side Pipers” is an intense wind-driven movement in the playlist featuring flute played by Tabatha Easley, Marla Smith on alto flute, Daniel Gonet on bass flute, Harper on clarinet, and punctuated by the brushwork of Tony Martucci.
Two vocally driven tracks, “Not Like This,” the Jeremy Lubbock torch ballad popularized in the eighties by singer Al Jarreau, and Xavier Davis’ title track composition (inspired by the opening line from the Yusef Komunyakaa poem, “Blue Light Lounge Sutra for the Performance Poets at Harold Park Hotel”) feature the roux-thick tonalities and interpretive palate of Marianne Solivan, whose memorable voice was heard prominently on Harper’s 2009 release, Stories in Real Time. The clarinet quartet of Harper, Alec Spiegelman, Kenny Pexton and Nicholas Lewis on these tracks produces a rich and dynamic timbre redolent of human voices commonly heard in the role of background singers in the dearly departed genre of Rhythm and Blues, and the dirge heard only in the soundtrack of romantic love—on life support. Even in its skillfully executed engineering that reveal breaths during rests to fingers pressing keys and moving across strings, we are reminded in this recording of the human touch and presence making all the music possible.
Darryl Harper has become distinctly adept in composing and performing music with a virtuosity that mines multiple musical disciplines with what appears to be a boundless conceptual alchemy. It is this virtuosity and vision that drives the tracks of The Need’s Got To Be So Deep. Aside from honing his playing chops on the august academy of the gospel, funk, chamber music and Jazz bandstands over a thirty-year career of composing and performing, an important part of Harper’s musical provenance is his doctoral studies at the New England Conservatory (NEC). Through the bold social and artistic agenda of its former director and founder of its Jazz program, Gunther Schuller, the NEC is home to the school of musical thought established by Schuller known as Third Stream. Third Stream is a hybrid synthesis of Jazz and European Classical music that is neither one nor the other of these forms—but the sovereign space between the two.
The micrometrical toolkit required to discern Jazz from European Classical musical influences in The Need’s Got To Be So Deep is not, however, Harper’s central accomplishment. Harper moves his musicians beyond the binary mathematics of hybridity into a multilayered state I call hyperbridity. Hyperbridity is an amplified interdisciplnarity that in this case, expands the range of Third Stream music beyond the two points of American Jazz and European Classical music. The conceptual hyperbridity of Harper’s intrepid, multi-genre approach to Jazz reflects how poet Éduardo Glissant describes the act of departing from one point to move to another. “It's the moment when one consents not to be a single being and attempts to be many beings at the same time.”
In the name of progress and motion, The Need’s Got To Be So Deep shows Darryl Harper and his growing ensemble of associates once again moving the Jazz idiom forward—on and off of the bandstand—progressing through a conscious and creative departure from twentieth century protectionist notions of its purity into a new standard of twenty first century musical innovation—being many beings at the same time.
New York, May 2014