(recently published in JazzTimes; direct link)
The drummer gives the saxophonists some on Coexist, another round of sophisticated truth telling from Winard Harper that demonstrates high standards of musical excellence when it comes to expansive compositions, creative arrangements and choice of able bandmates.
Heading ensembles ranging from sextets to tentets, the leader taps guest saxophonists on five of the disc’s 12 tracks. He also shows off his considerable gifts as a trap-set wizard, percussionist and, on his African-tinged “Ummah” and “Jeli Posse,” a player of the balaphone, a vibraphone-type instrument from West Africa.
One of the most impressive collaborations comes toward the end of the disc, with Frank Wess’ elegant, luxuriant reading of the ballad “Dedicated to You,” his tenor soloing over the laidback rhythms of Harper, pianist Roy Assaf and bassist Stephen Porter, and often juxtaposed with the mellow horn clusters of trumpeter Bruce Harris, tenor saxophonist Jovan Alexandre and trombonist Michael Dease. Wess turns to flute for a similarly lush version of Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” backed by a five-piece group with Tadataka Unno on piano.
Mark Gross leads on alto on the slinky, blues-tinted “Hard Times” and “Jeli Posse,” while alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity gets showcase moments on Billy Taylor’s Latin-to-swing “A Bientot.” Harper takes a detour to church with a soulful “Amazing Grace,” while Latin and African percussion drive the title track and hard-bop colors dominate “Something Special,” “Get Tough” and “Triumph.”