By Mabel Suen
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Wedged between gigs by such legendary jazz musicians as pianist Ahmad Jamal and harmonica player Toots Thielemans on this season's Jazz at the Bistro schedule, the appearance of Stefon Harris at Bistro Europa this week might be unjustly overlooked by some jazz fans. But don't make the mistake of missing this fine musician: Harris is one of jazz's rising stars, and his vibraphone playing offers a combination of fine technique and a wide-ranging musical sensibility that encompasses bop, classical and funk influences.The classically trained Harris was aiming at a career with the New York Philharmonic -- until he was exposed to jazz through the music of the great Charlie Parker. Since the mid-'90s, he has concentrated on jazz. Harris soon made a name for himself as an eclectic, versatile musician, appearing as a sideman on recordings with, among others, Charlie Hunter, Russell Gunn, Steve Turre and Joe Henderson.
Harris' 1998 debut recording on the Blue Note label, A Cloud of Red Dust, won high acclaim, and his 1999 follow-up, Black Action Figure, won spots on numerous best-of lists. But to really appreciate Harris, you've got to catch him in performance.
If you're fascinated by the coordination and dexterity displayed by top-notch vibes players such as Gary Burton and Bobby Hutcherson, you'll discover that seeing Harris perform live is a revelation. Last year at the Newport Jazz Festival, Harris appeared onstage with vibes and marimbas set up in a V formation -- and proceeded to blow away the crowd by playing them both in turn and in combination. At times, his hands were a blur as he pounded out notes and chords with uncanny precision.
Harris was in St. Louis in March 1999, appearing at the Delmar Restaurant & Lounge as part of a tour of Blue Note recording artists that also featured Greg Osby, Mark Shim and Jason Moran. But these Jazz at the Bistro shows are Harris' St. Louis debut as a leader. Working with an outstanding backing group of Xavier Davis on piano, Tarus Mateen on bass and drummer Terreon Gully, Harris should put on quite a show -- musically and visually. Highly recommended.
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