Monday, May 26, 2014

Harvey Mason: "Chameleon" - DownBeat

Harvey Mason

Growing up in Los Angeles in the '90s, Herbie Hancock's 1973 album Head Hunters was required listening.  Drummer Harvey Mason provided the groundwork for many after-school jams.  His simmering grooves have been mimicked but unsurpassed for more than 40 years. Here, over the course of 10 tracks, he revisits just a handful of the hundreds of seminal recordings he played on, employing a band scattered with confident young guns.

Bookending the record are a couple of Angeleno saxophonists who spent a fair amount of their high school days unlocking the secrest of Mason's backbeat.  Kamasi Washing is the first up, bellowing on Grover Washington Jr.'s "Black Frost." His soulful declarations trill over Mason's swagger before giving way to strained, unhinged squalls.  Keyboardist Kris Bowers pokes and prods with synthesized support. It is the peak of raw dexterity as the record is draped in a studio sheen that is occasionally blinding.

Bowers and Washington return for Patrice Rushen's "Before the Dawn," which boasts a languid sway enlivened by a Rhodes solo from Bowers that brightens the room.  Tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel closes out the recording with the self-titled track. No pressure, right? He serves it respectfully, building on short phrases as the band rises behind him in a sea of cymbals and shakers.

The original recordings are not suprassed here. Mason's arc from funk to fusion is succinctly charted, but this album would have been more interesting and challenging if his young bandmates had brought Mason's experience to their songbook.

Harvey Mason @ DownBeat

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