There is truly something wonderful and spiritual about Amiri Baraka’s spoken word "rap" on this recording. It’s not rap as we think of it in 2008, in terms of Hip-Hop, but as the beatniks thought it, "to expound with poetry above a jazz inflected music that has the same openness and thoughtful intellectual conception in its construction as used in the process of putting the words together." Baraka, who also wrote the words, "raps" on two of the tracks, "Africa Revisited" and Knowledge Of Self." In each tune he speaks mainly of development; whether it’s about jazz or the individual, though usually the two are inseparable, Baraka finds a way to word dance in much the same way Ken Nordine uses words to create rhythm in his "Word Jazz."
Against, with and in-the-midst of Baraka’s cerebral and historical word play jazz icon deserving wider attention, saxophonist, singer, and composer Billy Harper’s band lets it rip. Their hard-edged post-bop is a perfect foil for the scholarly intonations of Baraka’s ideas. Harper’s band plays with a sharpness of color and clarity of line so lacking by many of today’s artists. It’s obvious these musicians don’t just play jazz, they live, breath and eat it on a daily basis, for how can musicians be some rambunctiously exciting if it’s not their entire disposition and meaning in life to create music so alive and vivacious.
It is this spirit that is displayed on every single cut of Talking House Records’ second volume of music by master artists. While Harper may be a lesser known innovator and style-setter to most, he speaks with knowledge of the masters. Harper began singing at sacred functions at the age of five in Houston, Texas. By the time he was 14 his quintet started gaining serious area recognition. Later studies in saxophone and music theory at the, now, University of North Texas, helped broaden his scope, and ever since he moved to New York in 1966 his is a name that has always been associated with the respect for traditional jazz’s lineage as he, himself, continues finds ways to move forward.
That the strong post and hard-bop on this recording is true to jazz’s nature goes without saying to those who know this artist and his proclivities. That it’s done so well and with such honestly is also nothing new. An artist who has worked within the musical scene and created such consistently high levels of artistry for so long is to be celebrated, and this recording does this. Whether his band is blowing blues interjected lines, as on "Time and Time Again," or bringing meaning to ballads as on "Thoughts and Slow Actions," or swing-line feels as in "Who Here Can Judge Our Fates," or singing the most soulful version of "Amazing Grace" recorded in the last 10 years, Harper and his group excel throughout.