Lamar Harris

Groove Therapy

Sep 3, 2008 at 4:00 am

Lamar Harris is a trombonist, trumpeter and all-around brassmaster who takes the most staid of brass instruments (even the tuba) and turns them into silky, funk-fortified gold. Harris certainly has the chops to turn out a straight-ahead jazz album — his lines can be fluid and mellow or sharply articulated. But like East St. Louis-bred trumpeter Russell Gunn's Ethnomusicology series, Harris mixes R&B rhythms and hop-hop sensibilities into his jazz arrangements. Drum machines, squelchy bass synths and reverberating electric pianos set the table for Harris' brass-fueled fantasies. The genre-meld makes Groove Therapy tough to categorize — most of the songs lack the basic theme-solo-theme structure of jazz music, and Harris' trombone is too vital and vociferous to make this a laid-back exercise in neo-soul. But Groove Therapy is as good a title as any for what's contained on the album; Harris and company run through nineteen tracks that highlight the power of the groove, from hard-hitting horn explosions to down-tempo chill-out tracks.

"The Nune March" finds Harris at his most experimental, with sampled orchestra hits punctuating the simple beat as the trombone gets fed through a wah-wah type of filter. It's a subtle tweak on an old form, and those tweaks make the album both familiar and challenging. On the other end of the spectrum, "Battle of Jerico" is the biggest dose of classic jazz on the disc — a walking bass line and swinging ride cymbal allow Harris' trombone and trumpet solos to take flight. While it's a mostly instrumental selection, Harris employs some found-sound techniques, using audio from speeches by Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush to pepper "Johnny's Story" with some political grist. A few vocal-led tracks close out the program: Teresa Jenee guests on "Your All," and the final cut "Trouble Don't Last," features an uplifting chorus of singers, ending Groove Therapy on a note of positive, soul-powered unity.

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