True to form, drummer Winard Harper doesn't sound overly eager to assert his leadership on this session. His presence isn't heard so much as felt on some of the best tracks, including the performances that emphasize pianist George Cables's poetic touch, and the compositions come from a variety of sources, ranging from original material written by Harper and his bandmates to familiar pop and jazz tunes.
Among the latter is a pair of standards that demonstrate Harper's finesse with brushes and sticks: Cables's soulfully eloquent rendering of "I Fall In Love Too Easily" and the sextet's cool reprise of the Tony Bennett hit, "The Good Life."
The album opens, however, on a bright note, with a hard-bop arrangement of Reuben Brown's catchy and rather tricky theme "Float Like a Butterfly." Replete with crisp solos, it's a vibrant introduction to a band that also features trumpeter Patrick Rickman, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen and bassist Eric Revis. The remaining member of the ensemble, Senegalese percussionist Abdou Mboup, is prominently featured on "Ndaje," an exotic weave of shimmering strings and undulating rhythms. Haunting in its own way, too, is Allen's lovely ballad, "The Beneficent and the Merciful."
The album's centerpiece is made up of three Harper pieces that display the drummer's gifts as a soloist, collaborator and composer without sounding self-indulgent. The last of these tunes, "The Children's Song," is a delightful family affair, animated by funk beats and packed with the sound of youthful voices.
Appearing Friday at Twins Lounge. To hear a free Sound Bite from Winard Harper Sextet, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8124. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)