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Kindred (2001)

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Idris Muhammad

Kindred is unusual in that it's a co-led session, pairing two of the most creative young improvisers in jazz: vibraphonist Stefon Harris and pianist Jacky Terrasson. (Harris frequently switches over to the more percussive-sounding marimba.) On most tracks they're joined by bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Terreon Gully, with Idris Muhammad replacing Gully in two instances. Gully's drumming is so integral to the excitement of the session that he could practically share top billing with the two co-leaders. Harris and Terrasson establish their rapport in a variety of ways -- playing up-tempo cat and mouse on a duo version of "What Is This Thing Called Love," trading melodic passages on the ballad "Never Let Me Go," and soloing simultaneously on Bud Powell's "John's Abbey." Much of this is wonderful, although at times the dialogue seems forced; the two can get bogged down in a kind of back-and-forth mimicry that renders their moves predictable. In their determination to share the spotlight, they wind up stepping on each other. That said, there is a good deal of stellar playing on the album. The up-tempo numbers -- "Tank's Tune," Terrasson's "Rat Race," and Randy Weston's "Little Niles" -- spark furious yet uncluttered quartet interplay. Two mellower selections -- Buster Williams' "Deja" and Harris' "Shané" -- ripple with harmonic subtlety. Harris' flowing arrangement of "Summertime" features a nearly Bacharachian substitute progression on the last eight bars. Terrasson's bright Latin funk arrangement of "Body and Soul" omits the last A section in favor of a newly written vamp, and sounds its final clipped chord, of all places, at the end of the bridge -- bold thinking. When players as gifted as Harris and Terrasson put their heads together, there are bound to be ample rewards. As a team, however, they are at their best when they don't force the dialogue issue. ~ David R. Adler