PATIENCE HIGGINS' SUGAR HILL QUARTET:
Live in Harlem
If you like your jazz uptempo and overflowing with vitality, look no farther. Patience is a cooking, muscular-toned tenorman somewhere between Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollinsa musician great enough to have toured with Ellington, David Murray and Stevie Wonder. Add in the excitement of star guests and the high-energy enthusiasm of a packed house. Smoking guest solos by James Zollar on trumpet, Kiane Zawadi on bone, Hamiet Bluiett on bari and Leopaldo Fleming on congas helped make it one of the quartets greatest nights. Hear why this bands been packing em in Harlem every week for six years. The special magic of the night lit up CMJ; they raved, the most energetic jazz jam since the Kansas City soundtrack captures the enthusiasm and the excitement. (#05632)
Sugar Hill Quartet:
Patience Higgins is true to his name. He has waited nearly 25 years for a recording date of his own, which is not to suggest he has been idle. The New York-based multi-instrumentalist has been the quintessential journeyman, working with R&B legends Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave, jazz institutions like the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and mavericks like Muhal Richard Abrams and Hamiet Bluiett.
Higgins' patience has paid off handsomely in the form of Live in Harlem, the latest addition to Bluiett's Explorations series for Mapleshade, the renowned audiophile label. Live in Harlem documents Higgins presiding over the Monday night jam sessions at the historic St. Nick's Pub (Charlie Parker recorded there; Billy Strayhorn hung there when the club was known as Lucky's Rendezvous). Word of the sessions spread to all corners of the music community during Higgins' four-year tenure, and the vitality of the scene permeates every digit encoded onto the disc. In addition to Higgins' strong quartet with pianist Lee Kurz, bassist Andy McCloud, and drummer Eli Fountain, this program of smokin' blowing vehicles features guest spots by, among others, Bluiett and trombonist Kiane Zawadi. On disc, Higgins recently has mainly been heard on baritone with Bluiett's Baritone Nation; here he is exclusively heard on tenor, bringing a distinctive fire to the tradition.
"It's rewarding to have this project out," Higgins related recently. "I've been fortunate to be on a fair number of CDs with people I respect and admire like Muhal, Bluiett, David Murray, and Jimmy Scott, But it's nothing like the feeling I have for this project. We get people in from all over the world, and it's where the musicians in the neighborhood congregate. You never know who's going to come by. Stevie Wonder came once; tappers like Savion Glover and Buster Brown show up; it's really one of those special places where anything can happen.
"I think this record conveys the warm, exciting spiritual feeling that exists at the St. Nick's Pub. The audience is really part of the music there. It's a feeling that needs to be conveyed now, with the millennium approaching. It's great that this place exists, because this is exactly the type of place we heard about when we were growing up, learning about the music."
...back to the joy of blowing, a live jam session held at St. Nick's Pub in New York City. The basic quartet here is led by saxophonist Patience Higgins, a player usually heard only in large groups. On his own he really shines with a big, speedy bebop tenor sound. Les Kurz plays electric piano which might sound bad in a studio setting but actually comes off well in these close live quarters. The quartet plays by itself on the first half of the CD with guests trickling in on the second half, notably a singer named Ghanniya Green who makes a soulful impression on "Route 66" and this CD's co-producer Hamiet Bluiett doing his formidable thing on baritone sax on "Berta's Song," the highlight of the session. Overall this session doesn't always sound like it's as much fun as this must have been live, but Higgins' and Bluiett's intensity brings it close.
Saxophonist Patience Higgins leads a Monday night jam session at St. Nick's Pub, a jazz club up in Harlem. A genuine old-school jazz jam where musicians drop by and show off their chops, this live recording captures the enthusiasm and excitement that is such an important part of jazz. Live In Harlem is the most energetic jazz jam since the Kansas City soundtrack. Recommended Tracks: It's You Or No One / Blue 'N' Boogie / Let's Cool One / Berta's Song.
October 26, 1998
There have been plenty of recordings that attempt to capture jazz musicians in their natural habitat, outside the artificial constraints and dead-air ambiance of the recording studio, and regardless of the setting, whether a luxurious concert hall or the hallowed basement closet that is New York's Village Vanguard, they all try to catch lightning in a bottle-that elusive, spontaneous, exhilarating give-and-take that occurs when an artist and audience interact in the moment of creation, feeding off of each other's energy and emotion. On those special occasions, inspiration may come, but at a price-major gaffes and minor blemishes are a fact of life, and there are no second takes. When recording live, what you hear is what you get.
If jazz, in all its improvised immediacy, is a music that reflects its surroundings, then St. Nick's Pub must be a relaxed, homey place with lots of good vibes. At least it was on the Monday night when Mapleshade's Pierre Sprey lugged his portable recording studio in a van from his Maryland country home to this nightclub in Harlem, and found a typical neighborhood jam session in full swing. The house is led by Patience Higgins, probably best known for his spot in the sax section of Muhal Richard Abrams' cutting-edge big band, but here playing the sort of familiar mainstream repertory that keeps the local patrons happy. Higgins' tenor displays a gruff, grainy tone and muscularity in the Coleman Hawkins tradition, but there's more than a hint of Sonny Rollins' impish harmonic fluidity in the way he may suddenly slide off-chord for a swift, sizzling run of chromatic notes, then glide gracefully back into the changes.
Higgins acknowledges his debt to Rollins by offering a version of his signature tune, "Sonny Moon for Two," a deceptively simple descending line, which Higgins spices up with Monk-like "wrong notes" and pitches, colored with various tonal effects, without breaking the melodic thread of his solo. He negotiates his way through Monk's wry "Let's Cool One" with more fervor than finesse, reminiscent of the resolve and characteristic lilt of Monk's own longtime saxist, Charlie Rouse. And the exuberance with which Higgins jumps into the opening cut, "It's You Or No One," booted along by the loose and lively rhythm section (Les Kurz on piano, bassist Andy McCloud, and drummer Eli Fontaine), confirms the feeling that a nightclub is not the best place for nuance; no-nonsense blowing is what stirs the blood.
Every jam session has its highs and lows, and the later the hour, the more unpredictable becomes the music. Guests sit in: Ghannayia Green contributes a rough-and-ready vocal on "Route 66," Hamiet Bluiett's brawny baritone sax escorts the band through "Berta's Song," and three or four drummers join in on a themeless "Percussion Jam." If the music sometimes lacks the polish of a studio session, it's all part of the evening's entertainment-casual, convivial, and real.