Personnel: Eddie Harris (vocals, tenor saxophone, piano); Alex Rigowski (electric guitar); Wendell Harrison (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Ralphe Armstrong (electric bass); Tom Starr (drums).
Recording information: Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival, Detroit, MI (09/04/1994).
Photographer: Ssirus Pakzad.
Eddie Harris rarely recorded beside other solo tenors, so this live gig at the 1994 Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival, made two years before Harris' death, promises to be both an unusual document and an object lesson on just how different Harris was from every other tenorman on the planet. As in "Swiss Movement," Harris grafted himself onto a working group, that of local tenor favorite Wendell Harrison. Yet contrary to the title, the tenor battle premise disappears once the first three numbers are over and done with, for these two have other, more diverse pursuits in mind. "Tenor Madness" begins with some crowd-pleasing journeyman arpeggios and such by Harrison, and Harris comes in with rather straight-ahead bop, eventually coming around to his signature multi-register, funk-laced acrobatics. "The Wok" immediately takes up a different groove, a bumpy South African high-life rhythm. A deceptively broad a cappella intro to "My Shining Hour" soon turns into a long, straight-ahead up-tempo workout; the derivative Harrison tenor is first off the mark, and Harris barrels into an encyclopedia of his tenor idiosyncrasies. Harris exercises his Leon Thomas-esque African yodeling, scatting, and a brief Billie Holiday burlesque on "Vocalese" -- jes' messin' around before he gets on the piano and hauls out a clap-along version of his funny autobiographical complaint "Eddie Who?" A little-known sequel to "Freedom Jazz Dance," "Ambidextrous" -- done to a jumping funky beat -- has Harris mostly scatting again from the piano, with Harrison sounding much more individual on a saucy clarinet than as a tenorman. "Ambidextrous" finally falls apart after nearly 16 minutes, leaving listeners to marvel at the multifaceted personality that was Eddie Harris and to wonder why Enja -- the mock fight intro by Michael Nastos aside -- labeled this gig as a battle. ~ Richard S. Ginell