Stefon Harris – The Grand Unification Theory
(Blue Note – 2003)
by Paula Edelstein
Corporate and individual donor sponsors have long kept jazz ensembles performing and respectable but lately it has become more apparent that many of these time-honored partners are less of a presence in many artists’ lives. No so with Blue Note recording artist, Stefon Harris, one of the most important and most creative vibraphonists of his generation. Commissioned to write an 11-movement suite for the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, NY, the 2001 premiere of THE GRAND UNIFICATION THEORY was met with such acclaim that he assembled a 12-piece ensemble in the studio to document the 75-minute piece for the label. The result? A stellar 13-track program that brings a wide range of Harris’ musical and life experiences together at one point in time.
Accompanied by his working quartet of pianist Xavier Davis, Terreon Gully on drums, Tarus Mateen on bass, Harris also has invited several guests including trombonist Steve Turre, Khalil Bell on African percussion and many more, this collection also reflects the influence of Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock on Harris’ arrangements. Colorful, poetic and rhythmic, Stefon Harris has brought together an excellent depiction of life events that the listener can interpret from whatever rhythmic nuance they care to.
Whether Latin, African, Classical, Swing or Groove…it’s all there just waiting for you to bond with. Writing for a large ensemble is no easy task and the 29-year old Harris’ maturation as a composer is stunning. But whether he’s writing for a quartet or swinging alongside label mate Jacky Terrasson, Stefon Harris has definitely arrived and this time, it’s in a big way. Top picks: “The Birth of Time,” “Escape To Quiet Desperation” and “The Grand Unification Theory.”