Saxophonist Eddie Harris pulled up to the Cellar Door at 8 o'clock last night, having just arrived from the Newport Jazz Festival. He hurriedly unloaded his instruments and headed for the stage.
He should have stayed in New York.
Harris is a remarkable musician, but he could hardly have anticipated the playing conditions which awaited him. Backed by the Washington-based Marc Cohen Trio, his supple saxophone work was assaulted by an accompaniment which ranged from cardboardish chord-like clubbings, to a percussion barrage which lacked any subtlety or nuance. Pianist Cohen and bassist Bob Gibson (suffering, no doubt, from, chart-readers' fatigue) played the right notes but to no emotional effect and Keith Killgo was apparently attempting to be the loudest drummer in town.
All of which is regrettable, for Harris is surely one of the most powerful instrumentalists in jazz. His amplified saxophone is capable of various moods, from a smooth, melodic caress to wild and trembling screams. Playing sharp, staccato phrases, he moved through the songs with an agile grace, adding percussive accents with his voice. He then slowed things down and held the crowd spellbound with a wrenching blues solo.
Eddie Harris does not appear in Washington often and his performances are thus a rare treat. Listening to him last night, however, was like trying to savor a fine brandy while smoking a five-cent cigar.