Lafayette Harris, Jr. may be an unfamiliar name to some jazz fans, but around the New York scene he is known as a pianist with chops. In the past he has worked with the likes of Max Roach and Anita O’Day, and in the present he continues to work with some of the best talent around. Check out the musical roster on his latest album, Hangin’ with the Big Boys, set for a May release. Joining the rhythm section of bassist George DeLancey and drummer Will Terrill, on selected tracks there is the tenor sax of Houston Person, the trumpet of Antoine Drye, the alto and soprano saxes of Caleb Curtis, and vocalists Jazzmeia Horn and Noël Simoné Wippler.
The 11-tune set, recorded live before an invited audience, features a half dozen originals, one from Curtis, and four standards. The Harris originals include “Don’t Worry About It,” his first composition written when he was in high school, here played without the piano as what he calls “an interlude.”
“The Zombie Blues” is based on a piano riff by Duke Ellington and aims at giving the musicians the freedom “to go nuts.” “Little Kevin’s Embrace” is soulful blues showcasing Person’s tenor and Wippler’s vocalise. Horn delivers the vocal on “Drinking Wine Blues,” a tune with opportunities for dynamic solo work from the saxes and the trumpet, to say nothing of the piano. “We in the House” and the album’s title song complete the set of originals.
The Curtis piece is a modern swinger called “The Wheelhouse.” The standards include both vocalists getting together on an electric version of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” and Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” both played with elegant elan by Person. The set closes with a sweet arrangement of the Gershwins’ “They All Laughed,” which is highlighted by the trumpet work of Drye.
Lafayette Harris, Jr. may not be as well-known as some; he should be.