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The Battle of the Tenors by Eddie Harris & Wendell Harrison

What we have here is an old-fashioned, good-natured Tenor Sax Duel, like Dexter & Wardell and Lockjaw & Griffin used to have. The late, often under-rated Harris (for younger readers, back in the 60s, Harris actually sold records, which made his artistic cred suspect; never mind that he employed Muhal Richard Abrams on some of his early 70s Atlantic albums, and helped "popularize" jazz--one of the first jazz records I ever heard was Harris' 45 RPM single "Listen Here," which I found in Murphy's 5 &10 for 39 cents) and the under-heard Detroiter Harrison really let the sparks fly, with their big, earthy, blues-drenched tones. This album harkens back to a time when, parallel to the free-jazz and hard-bop movements, the line between jazz and "entertainment" music was not so broad.

These guys are not on some self-important "artistic" mission--Harris & Harrison clearly enjoy playing for people, and this feeling leaps through the speakers at you. Oh, they get warm & tender on the classic ballad "My Shining Hour," but they'll shake your hard-bop jones on Sonny Rollins' "Tenor Madness" and get down on "Eddie Who?" and the rollicking, extended closer "Ampedextrious" featuring Harris percussive, almost Phil Minton-like scat singing.

The only lump in the gravy is the band sounds a little too generic-fusion-y for my taste. But, hey, this is jazz as party music--why spoil the fun by nit-picking? Perfect for shaking off the Holiday Blues.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Eddie Harris & Wendell Harrison
  • CD Title: The Battle of the Tenors
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 1998
  • Record Label: Enja Records
  • Musicians: Harris (tenor sax, piano, vocals); Harrison (tenor sax, clarinet); Alex Rigowski (guitar); Ralphe Armstrong (electric bass); Ton Starr (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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