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If Our Hearts Could Only See

Billy Harper

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Album Review

Veteran tenor saxophonist Billy Harper's DIW debut is a revelation. Having sung wordless vocals on previous recordings, he makes his actual singing and speaking debut here. Harper displays a rich baritone voice on the standard "My One and Only Love," his own "If One Could Only See" (performed as an instrumental on the 1990 release Destiny Is Yours), and "I Move Silently Through This World," a poem by Vernel Lillie, Harper's high school drama teacher. The other six selections are Harper originals performed by his long-time working group including pianist Francesca Tanskley, bassist Clarence Seay, drummer Newman Taylor Baker, and trumpeter Eddie Henderson on three selections. Long recognized as one of jazz's most distinctive saxophonists, Harper also is a versatile composer. "Egypt" begins with an exotic melody played slowly that segues into up-tempo swing, while "World Without End" begins with some intense free dialogue before shifting into a repeating phrase played by bass and piano. Compositions such as "Time and Time Again" and "The One Who Makes the Rain Stop" have simpler forms, but all of the compositions serve as catalysts for Harper's passionate, soaring tenor sax, Henderson's energetic trumpet, and Tanksley's McCoy Tyner-influenced piano. This is one of 1997's best releases and a wonderful addition to Harper's slender discography.

Biography

Born: 17 January 1943 in Houston, TX

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Billy Harper is one of a generation of Coltrane-influenced tenor saxophonists who actually built upon the master's work, rather than simply copy it. Harper is consummately well-rounded, able to play convincingly in any context, from bop to free. His muscular tone, lithe articulation, comprehensive harmonic knowledge, and unflagging energy define him as a saxophonist. He's also possessed of an abundant imagination that connects directly to his blues and gospel roots. Though not as well-known as he...
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