Album Review – Loston Harris – Swingfully Yours

This review first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Loston Harris

loston harris

SWINGFULLY YOURS – Magenta Label Group LHM-CD-101 www.lostonharris.com  Kiss and Run; Nice Work If You Can Get It; I’m Old Fashioned; Hey You With The Crazy Eyes; How About You; I’ve Got The World On A String; 9:26 Special; The Lamp Is Low; You Can’t Love ‘Em All

PERSONNEL: Loston Harris, piano, vocals; Ian Hendrickson-Smith, tenor saxophone; Gianluca Renzi, bass; Carmen Intorre, Jr, drums

By Curtis Davenport

I was very pleased to see this CD from Loston Harris come across my desk. I had first enjoyed the work of this Virginia native in the late’90’s, when his Comes Love CD was on the playlist of the radio station I was then working for. His recordings in the ensuing 15 years have been sporadic but always enjoyable. Swingfully Yours, his fifth disc, is no exception.

Many New Yorkers are already familiar with Mr. Harris from his decade as a headliner in Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, a role previously held by Bobby Short. Those in Los Angeles know him from his regular gigs at The Whisper. However on his recordings Harris has consistently shed his cabaret conventions in favor of a hard swinging, somewhat percussive piano style that betray his musical beginnings as a drummer. When you find out a little about Mr. Harris’ background, you understand his sound. He’s a protégé of Ellis Marsalis, who he met through Harry Connick, Jr. Harris also has studied with Geri Allen and the late Dr. Billy Taylor. With all those folks around him, how could Loston keep from swinging? And like his piano pal Connick, Harris also sings rather well.

On Swingfully Yours, Mr. Harris sticks to the formula that has worked so well for him in the past; well-known standards mixed with a few rarities from the great composers.  Harris himself describes the album quite succinctly on the inside cover: “This recording is all about swing. No torch songs or ballads, just tunes with tempos that make you wanna tap your toes.” He is accompanied by his new working group, a simpatico trio of young New York based pros; bassist Gianluca Renzi, drummer Carmen Intorre, Jr. and Ian Hendrickson-Smith on tenor sax. They all get where the leader wants to go and they take him there in high style.

Harris’ early albums concentrated on instrumentals with a few vocals thrown in.  Now, perhaps due to the expectations of his cabaret audience, that balance has reversed.  Swingfully Yours has only two instrumental tracks but both are choice. The disc springs to life with one of them, “Kiss and Run”, the minor classic, performed memorably in the past by Johnny Hartman and Bill Henderson, among others. Here Harris and company romp joyously through it as if opening their nightly set. You can hear one of Harris’ teachers, Dr. Taylor, all over Loston’s festive solo, as Renzi and Intorre keep perfect time. He is followed by Hendrickson-Smith, a very versatile and creative saxman who deserves much wider recognition and brief statements from Renzi and Intorre before the out chorus. It’s classy without sacrificing an ounce of swing. The other instrumental is “9:26 Special”, Harris’ arrangement of “9:20 Special” the swing chestnut by longtime Basie saxophonist Earle Warren. This arrangement was so infectious that I listened at least three times before moving on. Harris is not only a fine soloist but a good accompanist as well. I loved the intricate figures he was playing in support of Hendrickson-Smith on this track and throughout the album. Among the vocal tracks the most notable were “The Lamp is Low” taken at bop speed with a Petersonesque solo by the leader and the saxophonist matching him step for speedy step; “Nice Work if You Can Get It” has an inventive mid-tempo boogie rhythm with a real strong left hand from Harris and “How About You”, is taken at a mid-tempo burn that makes it the closest thing to a ballad on this set. Harris’ vocal put this old warhorse over in a delightful manner that says “I’ve sung this a hundred times and I’m still finding new things in it”. Because he does, we do too.

Swingfully Yours is another fine album from Loston Harris, who has grown by leaps and bounds as a pianist and as a singer over his two decade career. There was only a two-year gap between this album and its predecessor. That’s encouraging. Perhaps it’s a sign that those of us outside of NYC and LA will hear from Mr. Harris a bit more often.

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