If you’re a fan of the jazz bebop era of the 1950s and 1960s when saxophonists like Cannonball Adderley and Phil Woods were blowing listeners’ minds, then Inside Out by The Bill Harris Quintet is right up your alley. This straight-ahead jazz record transports us to those days when creating an infectious melody didn’t warrant the use of special effects and the crazy production that’s required in the industry today.
Inside Out features absolutely no filler, just five top musicians turning classic standards on their head (hence the album title). Their combined years of experience is what makes this small group sound as if they’ve been playing together forever and not teaming up for the first time. This CD marks saxophonist Harris’ first outing as a leader, but he’s definitely not new to the music scene having been a longtime member of The Steve Hall Quintet. Flugelhorn player and trumpeter Paul Mazzio was a member of Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd as well as a sideman for the legendary Tony Bennett. Among pianist George Mitchell’s many credits is his 30 year tenure with superstar Diana Ross. Bassist Dave Captein has worked with jazz greats such as Jack Sheldon and Bud Shank, while drummer Dick Berk has performed with everyone in the genre from Billie Holiday to Charles Mingus.
With credentials like these, jazz fans will likely wish they were there in the studio as this album was being made since jam sessions lose their sparkle when heard through a recording. However, that’s not to say the record is a complete waste of time because most of these arrangements are truly remarkable. “Boston After Dark,” the lone original composition, will definitely turn heads with its dramatic intro and edgy harmonies that are reminiscent of spy/detective thrillers – James Bond jazz, if you will. The bossa-flavored piece “Pensativa” is simply lovely with its romantic sax solos and deliciously dreamy pace. Finally, there’s their revamping of Thelonius Monk’s “Little Rootie Tootie,” a swinging tune with jarring chord changes that, though unsettling, is actually a pleasant-sounding conclusion to the CD.
Hardly ground-breaking, Inside Out is a solid effort by a group of incredibly talented instrumentalists. I’d probably rate this much higher if I could have heard it live, since this kind of jazz is totally mesmerizing in person.