Monday, November 20, 2017

Harold Little's Akoben on CD

I've been a little grouchy over some of this '80s jazz-funk-r&b stuff I've been getting lately. Twinkly keyboards, plonky bass lines, mindless danceability--it's just not my thing. It's dated, and back in the day I didn't like it, either. It's not holding up well. Stop it.

Then, of course, something comes in to change my mind. Trumpet and flugelhorn player Harold Little has just released Akoben, a funky blast of '80s fun that rises above the genre through his superb horn work. He captures the best of the era--hot, sultry playing that boasts hidden depths, sort of like Miles Davis' strange yet pioneering Tutu and Amandla. Little's supporting band is a little less enigmatic than Miles' crew, however--this is mainstream jazz that is far more entertaining than challenging. But it's a lot more interesting than most of the lite/cool jazz I've been evaluating.

Little's been around for a while, playing with contemporary jazz greats such Chuck Brown, Butch Warren and Calvin Jones. He definitely inhabits a specific place and a time with this music, playing it straight and without irony. Normally I would wince at a jazz/funk cover of "Step," something that just isn't necessary under most circumstances, but Little's version slowly evolves into something vital and different. On "We Need Love," which features gorgeous vocals from Karen Linette and a slew of backup singers, Little's sudden and dynamic horn blasts will remind you of Hugh Masakela.

Look at it this way--this album won't single handedly change my mind about this sub-genre of music. But I've already mentioned two of my favorite horn players, Miles Davis and Hugh Masakela, so it's clear that there's a serious and intriguing undercurrent in this music that gives it an added layer of meaning. Plus, and I've mentioned this once or twice before in the last month, the sound quality here is absolutely pure and gorgeous. It lacks the digital glaze that would coat Akoben if it had come out in 1988 or so. Perhaps that's what elevates the recording, but I'm really fond of the way Little plays as well.

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