By Andrew Poretz . . .
Allan Harris, one of the coolest cool cat performers you’ll ever see, played two sets at Dizzy’s Club on Columbus Circle after a road tour with eight other musicians. He brought six of them here on April 6 for the long-delayed CD release event for his 2021 album, “Kate’s Soulfood.” The diverse set combined Harris’s original tunes, many of which were from the album, along with several jazz standards. Mr. Harris has the kind of smooth, deep baritone voices with just an edge of gravel in it that will make you think of singers such as Nat King Cole, Al Jarreau and Lou Rawls. He’s also a fine guitarist who can comp, shred, and even wail with a slide.
Dizzy’s (named after jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie) is a stunning restaurant and music venue on the fifth floor of the former Time Warner Center (recently renamed the Deutsche Bank Center, but I can’t bring myself to call it that). The club overlooks Central Park, and looks like the kind of chic New York supper clubs you see in old movies.
The dapper Harris appeared in a dark suit and white shirt with an open neck, and one of his trademark fedoras. The singer, in excellent voice, kicked off the set with “New Day.” His evocative, vivid lyrics reveal the soul of a poet. One can see the children playing in the yard, the dog barking. The song invites the listener to have confidence, to trust in love, to find one’s dreams.
“It’s a new day and a new way
To start a new life
But you have to believe it.”
With a loving dedication of “The Very Thought of You” (Ray Noble) to his wife, Pat, complete with the verse, one could discern echoes of the Nat King Cole vocal in Harris’s singing. It was quite beautiful.
“Wash Away My Sins” married gospel and R&B. Pianist Arcoiris Sandoval, now with her red Nord keyboard set to emulate the Hammond B3 organ, brought the church feeling to the tune.
Another Harris original, “Open Up!”, had a funky fusion feel. Having Alicyn Yaffee as a second guitarist allowed them to double each other in a solo, with Grégoire Maret’s harmonica providing a triple note. Maret is that rare “harp” player who might be in the league of the late, legendary Toots Thielemans, with great improvisational skills and a superb, nearly sax-like tone.
The band let loose on “Fly Me to the Moon” (Bart Howard), with a sound somewhat reminiscent of the theme to “Moonlighting.” Appropriately, Harris’s vocal approach here was reminiscent of Al Jarreau’s on that theme. Each musician took a sizzling solo, and Harris showed off some pyrotechnic shredding on his gold Les Paul.
Harris had toured with a show he wrote, Cross that River, the untold story of the Black cowboys of the post-Civil War 19th century. In a similar vein, the jazz and blues performer showed an entirely different side when he performed his single “Run Through America,” a protest song he wrote in support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
The artist returned to form, declaring, “Can’t leave out of here without doing a blues!” It was “Black Coffee Blues” (written with Ray Brown) from his “It’s a Wonderful World” album.
“It don’t take a lot of money to put a smile on your baby’s face.
But you’ve got to grind the coffee at a slow and easy pace.”
Here, Harris pulled out the slide, and showed his mettle with some killer slide blues.
The band is terrific, with solid performances by all, with exceptional playing by Irwin Hall on tenor sax and Marty Kenney on bass.
Allan Harris will next appear in New York at Mezzrow Jazz Club on May 19, 2022.
Allan Harris – Kate’s Soulfood played April 6 at Dizzy’s Club (10 Columbus Circle). www.allanharris.com
Photos: Hollis King