To grow up with an aunt who owned a luncheonette in Harlem right behind the Apollo Theater and see all the stars coming in and hear them talk, must have a big influence on a future musician. Singer Allan Harris (who also plays guitar and writes songs) saw them all: from Marvin Gaye to Louis Armstrong to Clyde McPhatter. So it is only natural that he now released an album with all sorts of influences, bonding them together as in a jukebox. It was not unusual to hear “Johnny Cash and then some Miles Davis from Bitches Brew” in those popular jukebox days, said a good-humored Harris on the phone yesterday while staying in Paris for two nights at Duc des Lombards.
His new album, which came out in the US at the end of January and will be released in Germany and other parts of Europe on February 20th, opens with the Charles Strouse/Lee Adams tune “I Got A Lot Of Livin’ To Do” from the show “Bye Bye Birdie” (1960), but don’t expect him to do another collection of show tunes or standards here. “The scene is changing”, says the deep baritone voice at the other end of the phone line. There are all kinds of genres and styles now on a lot of recordings which use a jazz background. And so this is an album where you get a John Mayer cover (“Daughters”, “There are not a lot of songs about a father/daughter relationship”), a song by Acker Bilk (“Stranger On The Shore”), or Elton John‘s “Take Me To The Pilot”).
Produced by Brian Bacchus who was at the helm of Gregory Porter‘s last albums and also produced Norah Jones, the album is a perfect, modern amalgam of jazz-rooted R&B. When I saw on the back cover that Allan also recorded “My Funny Valentine”, I first thought please not another one of those. But, surprise surprise, his version oozes soul and sass, not only by using a blues-drenched Hammond B 3 played by Pascal Le Boeuf. “I told my guys to imagine an R&B/Jazz all black night club circa 1974 in Harlem where you could hear Herbie Hancock‘s Headhunters or Miles’ Bitches Brew and have some fried chicken and then how would “My Funny Valentine” sound like?” The answer is that it sounds like a hot, rich, and tasty stew in this case.
Alongside two Kenny Rankin compositions and the James Moody/Eddie Jefferson/Lester Young classic “I’ve Got The Blues (Lester Leaps In)”, Allan has added four of his own compositions. “Miami” is a wonderful, breezy tune and “Can It Be This Is A Dream”, written for his wife Pat, is one of the most romantic ballads including a beautiful Fender Rhodes by La Boeuf. Also on hand: bassist Leon Boykins, drummer Jake Goldbas, guitarist Yotam Silberstein, and percussionist Samuel Torres, all adding up to this modern-day jukebox.
And if you want to see the above-mentioned luncheonette from Allan’s aunt Kate, it’s the one on the 1960 Blue Note cover of organist Jimmy Smith‘s album “Home Cookin'”).
Allan Harris has his record release concert next Monday (February 9th) at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in Manhattan and has various dates coming up on the east coast. He will also come to Germany for Hamburg’s Elbjazz Festival on May 29th, is scheduled for the Ritmi Jazz Festival in Riga, Latvia, on July 4th and will play the Vienna Jazz Festival on July 6th.