It is so difficult to keep your mind on other things when there is an economic crisis, two wars (at least) and a presidential election with Sarah Palin running on the Republican ticket.
But last night’s concert by the Winard Harper Sextet, at the Atlas as part of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, did it. It transported you from anything that was not right in front of you on the stage.
Harper is a drummer, and his sextet consists of a bass, piano, sax, trumpet and another percussionist. The pieces float between standards and tunes composed by one or more of the group. They certainly highlight drum solos, but they don’t stop there. It was perhaps the most balanced jazz group I have ever seen, as if there was a strong attempt to make sure that each member had the same amount of solo experience.
Harper is a veteran drummer, although still in his 40s, but most of the group is quite young, including a fabulous pianist who is currently a student at The New School, and the trumpeter, who is getting is masters in music at SUNY Purchase. They combine lilting jazz with intensity and dazzling energy in some pieces that make them look at sound as if they were on fast-forward. The percussionist styles are unique, making use of a wide variety of drums, cymbals, and various things that you shake or ding.
And Harper has a smile to match Joe Biden’s.
It was disappointing last night to see only maybe 75 people in a hall that seats a few hundred. I think that might have been a problem with publicity, I’m not sure.
The group plays in Washington from time to time, and around the country (they are based in NYC), so see them if you can. And I guess you can get a sense of them on youtube, and on their own websites (you can google them).