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Grand Unification Theory (2003)

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Stefon Harris

The popular vibist's fourth solo outing is also his most ambitious, something appealing, yet often odd and maddening in an attempt to cast jazz as cinema. Simply listening to the multiple moods, colors, and atmospheres here can bring many possible interpretations to just what his theory is, but the journey is at least never dull. His prologue is straightforward, joyous, and swinging jazz with a shimmering lead melody and solo over Tarus Mateen Kinch's lively bass and Terreon Gully's nimble drum fills and hi-hat. Then the ambition (or what some might see as pretention) takes over, and "The Birth of Time" is a hypnotic, mystical slice of zany avant-garde. Wade through, and you'll arrive at its best moments -- Anne Drummond's flute whimsy and the eventual movement into a jamming quartet led by Tim Warfield's tenor. "Velvet Couch" shows a resuming sanity, a mix of big band energy with '60s soul-jazz, but the party voices of "Transition" lead listeners into the new agey jungle known as "Corridor of Elusive Dreams." If you let go of the idea that this is supposed to be a regular trad jazz project, you can have fun with the mysterious escapade "Escape to Quiet Desperation" and the African vocal at the center of the creepy "Song of the Whispering Banshee." All of this crazy push and pull culminates in a ten-minute title track that, not surprisingly, moves from too many minutes of discordance into a feisty jazz explosion. Long after you've listened, you'll be thinking about the trip Harris has taken you on. Hopefully, you won't have gone completely crazy by then trying to figure out the itinerary. ~ Jonathan Widran