Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Vintage satisfaction

Posted By on Wed, Nov 24, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Detroit mysterian Wilbur Harden — a velvet voice on flügelhorn and trumpet, sometime colleague of Yusef Lateef — didn't record a vault-load of material during his brief, late-'50s stay in the spotlight, but what he did produce was special. This two-CD set compiles all the sessions that he recorded with John Coltrane, in the company of sidemen mostly from back home — among them Curtis Fuller (trombone), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Doug Watkins (bass) and Louis Hayes or Ali Jackson (drums). Harden sounded sweet like Kenny Dorham and held-back like Miles, though he also had a touch of Lee Morgan's sassy brassiness. Any sextet including both Coltrane and Fuller is bound to be compared with Trane's classic Blue Train, but the compositions here are mellower and more Afrocentric, with a relaxed darkness to the melodies that feels like gliding in cool shade (hear, in particular, Harden's "E.F.F.P.H." and "Dial Africa," and Fuller's "Gold Coast" and "Tanganyika Strut"). Coltrane's playing finds him at the height of his Davis Quintet period, having expanded bop phrasing to the breaking point with wave upon wave of sexy, cascading runs. Harden makes the most of these rare moments at the summit, always playing with utter emotional savvy and VSOP-smooth articulation, joining the ranks of such elegant flügelhornists as Miles and Art Farmer. In fact, everybody on these lovely, loping dates is in memorable form.

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