Harvey/O’Higgins Project – That’s The Way To Live
(Ubuntu Music UBU0094. Review by Leonard Weinreich)
My late chum, Al, an omnivorous jazz fan, often referred wistfully to the kind of music that, if you were strolling along a street and a strain caught your attention, would persuade you to enter the club. Al’s description nails this album. Warm, inviting and satisfying. For, as the group’s pianist Graham Harvey explains: “There’s a thread in jazz that has continued from its origins in the small groups of the swing era, through bebop and up to the present day that embodies the aesthetic of integrity (‘making the changes’) coupled with rhythmic coherence (being in the pocket’). This is where we exist”. While it’s not my habit to retype extensive quotes from press releases, here’s one that states the case for this album.
The Harvey/O’Higgins Project has an objective: to be non-sectarian. It aims to rise above the narrow focus of current jazz fashion by selecting its themes from wherever it chooses, investing them with energy, careful thought and crisply execution. 50% of the tracks on this album are standards and the other half are original compositions by members of the group. The CD kicks off with a 1940’s favourite, Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s I Wish I Knew, Dave O’Higgins’ robust tenor resonating with memories of Sonny Rollins’ sardonic lower register swoops. Harvey’s piano ducks and dives through the changes punctuating the process with celebratory block chords.
An even earlier song is Kahn and Daniels’ Chlo-e (Song Of The Swamp), a mega-hit for Paul Whiteman’s elephantine organisation in 1928, but rarely heard today. The Project treats it with strutting vivacity particularly evident when Harvey channels the late Milt Buckner with a virtuoso display of locked hands.
That’s What You’re Gonna Get is a sort of blues with a bridge that hits a 3 a.m. groove, shades-of-Dexter Gordon performance that would grab my friend Al and pitch him into the club with both Harvey and O’Higgins outdoing each other at coining fresh licks. Jeremy Brown reinforces the mood on bass. Brown’s own composition, Mesa, propels us on a journey into a more contemporary, slightly arid landscape, with restrained performances from all. On the other hand, Tropical Paradise paints images of iced pina coladas and turquoise lagoons over an exotic pulse laid down by Brown and Josh Morrison, the Project’s highly reliable drummer. O’Higgins, who has technique and range to spare makes the tricky head sound easy. As he does with Charlie Parker’s Segment and its serpentine theme crammed with corkscrew twists. Morrison shines in an extended statement on drums. Opening the song with an impressive cadenza, O’Higgins, followed by Harvey, seize the opportunity to demonstrate their impressive ballad chops on Vincent Youmans’ tender melody, More Than You Know, with fine support from Brown and Morrison. Harvey initiates his sunny That’s The Way To Live! in bright style before handing over to O’Higgins whose choruses propose an optimistic view of life. Then Harvey returns to spin long lyrical lines full of promise and hope.
The mood alters with Stir Crazy (a commentary on recent lockdowns?), a 12-bar blues. The tempo relaxes and the atmosphere darkens providing Harvey, O’Higgins and Brown the opportunity to air a few deeply-held feelings. Myrow and Gannon’s 1941 Autumn Nocturne was originally recorded by the subversive Claude Thornhill Orchestra (a silky outfit that smuggled radical bebop arrangements into Manhattan’s most sedate hotel lounges). It’s a melody too seldom heard, ripe for revival and provides a tuneful finale to a satisfying album. I suspect my friend Al would have approved.
Dave O’Higgins, tenor saxophone; Graham Harvey, piano; Jeremy Brown, bass; Josh Morrison, drums.
That’s The Way To Live was recorded 15-16 September, 2020 at JVG Studio, Brixton, London. Release date is 10 September 2021
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Categories: Album reviews