Jazz  Allgemein
Alex Harding & Lucian Ban Blutopia SSC1736 CD
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FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberSSC1736
Barcode016728173629
labelSunnyside Records
Release date17/05/2024
salesrank297
Players/ContributorsMusicians

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      The relationship between Alex Harding and Lucian Ban has been long and fruitful. Their combination of elements of improvisational music have helped the pair develop a unique musical language that transcends the expectations of the jazz genre. Their new recording, Blutopia, highlights their attuned rapport while allowing their music to unfold with their own singular ensemble, propelled by the tuba stylings of the great Bob Stewart.

      Pianist Lucian Ban arrived in New York City from Romania to study at the New School in 1998. As he first began to immerse himself into the local scene, Ban was fortunate to hear baritone saxophonist Alex Harding. The two hit it off immediately and formed a fast friendship leading to musical collaboration. This led to Ban providing a handful of songs for Harding and Harding becoming an essential voice on Ban’s recording debut on their co-led album, Somethin’ Holy (CIMP, 2002).

      It was Harding’s unique voice that attracted Ban, one that had also captured the ears of many legendary collaborators, including Sun Ra, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Julius Hemphill. Harding’s heartfelt and blues-drenched baritone sax playing lent well to Ban’s open-minded and improvisatory approach to music. Harding’s visceral style lent an edge and authenticity to their music, a sound and feeling anchored in the blues that Ban came to the States to try to discover and absorb. Their communion was a true celebration of the spirit, as both found something in the other to help free their spirit in performance.

      Harding was essential in introducing the young pianist to the luminaries of the jazz scene, including Sam Newsome, Nasheet Waits, Brad Jones, and the incredible tuba player Bob Stewart. These relationships have been long lasting and essential to the pair’s musical development.

      As the years have gone by, the duo has been growing and evolving. The pair’s most recent release was a duo album, entitled Dark Blue (Sunnyside, 2019), which showcased their inspiring level of communication in a transparent setting. The past few decades have provided Ban and Harding a number of new regular musical partners with whom they have established an equal level of rapport, most notably Mat Maneri, a truly unique voice on viola.

      On Blutopia, Harding and Ban have decided to bring together an ensemble that bridges their two musical worlds even further by including old friends Bob Stewart, Brandon Lewis, and Maneri. Of course, Stewart is well known as one of the most heralded improvising tuba players. Drummer Lewis remains a longtime collaborator and a regular on the New York jazz scene. The quintet came together to record Blutopia at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn on August 29, 2023.

      The music that they created leans into the blues, in feeling, sound, and color. The tones are mysterious yet rooted. The tuba speaking to early traditional sounds of jazz but Ban’s use of Fender Rhodes and Maneri’s electronic effects giving a contemporary, Afro-Futurist meets new music tint. But as with their earlier Tuba Project ensemble, it was with Stewart in mind that Harding and Ban wrote and arranged for Blutopia. Stewart’s singular playing style has driven the conception of tuba playing from a strictly trad instrument to a very contemporary one. This sound is of immense import to this music.

      The recording slowly blossoms with “Speak Our Silence,” an atmospheric collective improvisation that features the sensitive interplay between Ban and Maneri. Andrew Hill’s “Blue Black” is reborn with a mysterious, funky spirit, like an urbane second line. Maneri inherited a folder of Paul Motian’s music when the legendary drummer passed away. “Fantasm” is one of the pieces they discovered, its timeless, floating feeling gains weight with the baritone sax and tuba. Ban’s playful “Hieroglyphics” is an older swinging piece that has always lent itself to Stewart’s ever-charging basslines, while Ban’s “Mist” is written with Sun Ra in mind as Ban had first heard Harding with the intergalactic bandleader and highlights Stewart’s range of sounds and effects behind the slinky, fluid performances of Harding and Maneri.

      Inspired by the great Randy Weston, Ban’s “Marrakesh” captures the late pianist’s African influenced dialect with Lewis’s subtle but driving 6/8 drumming driving the action. Harding’s “Spirit Take My Hand” showcases his deep feeling for gospel and blues with a gorgeously warm slow drag. The title track is a group improvisation that shifts the group into explorative space that continues to be tied to a groove. The recording concludes with Ban’s “Hymn,” a delicate yet upbeat piece from Ban’s ever evolving book, first recorded with Tuba Project and later on Dark Blue, that finds balance in the pianist’s warm Rhodes sound and Maneri and Hardings expressive voices. The decision to present the piece once again was to highlight the continuity of the duo’s musical intent and to create a living repertoire.

      As Alex Harding and Lucian Ban’s musical partnership has grown, the pair have been able to incorporate elements of their musical backgrounds into an intriguing and singular sound. Their addition of viola, tuba, and drums to their concept broadens their scope and their blue tinge on Blutopia, a celebration of the pair’s history and spirit.

      Tracklist hide

      CD 1
      • 1.Speak Our Silence04:29
      • 2.Blue Black09:13
      • 3.Fantasm04:49
      • 4.Hieroglyphics03:35
      • 5.Mist08:26
      • 6.Marrakesh08:17
      • 7.Spirit Take My Hand06:56
      • 8.Blutopia03:01
      • 9.Hymn05:38
      • Total:54:24