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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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New Directions




1. New Direction

2. A Spring Fantasy

3. The Crossbar

4. The Big Banana

5. Shake Off The Dust

6. Connection To Congo Square

7. Herlin's Hurdle

8. Hiccup Smooth

9. Harlem Shuffle

10.Toottie Ma

Bruce Harris (trumpet): Godwin Louis (alto and soprano saxophones): Mark Whitfield (guitar: track 1 only): Emmet Cohen (piano): Russell Hall (bass): Pedrito Martinez (conga; tracks 2, 3, 6): Herlin Riley (drums)

Recorded Avatar Studios, NYC [63:39]

New Direction is the album title though Solid Groove might be a more accurate description. The dependable Riley isn’t taking things far off his beaten musical path with this straight-ahead set of ten tracks, strong on syncopation and trademark polyrhythms. The title track is the only one to feature guitarist Mark Whitfield, a deft soloist indeed, and I rather felt his absence on the remainder of the programme. He is an experienced figure and brings great stores of tonal richness to any band he graces; this easy loping piece, with the front line flaring up behind him on the bridge, is a case in point. A Latino tinge permeates A Spring Fantasy and there’s a strong Blue Note feel to The Crossbar where pianist Emmet Cohen, sounding not unlike Ray Bryant as he propels the rhythm, takes a vibrant solo.

The Big Banana – don’t ask, it’s a golfing thing - features an avid soprano solo from Godwin Louis (though I don’t much like his tone, per se – he’s a much better altoist) over a typically complex rhythmic backing from Riley and cohorts. Trumpeter Bruce Harris relaxes on Shake Off The Dust, which sounds to me like TV Mood Music – slow and eggs over easy – before Riley’s New Orleanian spirit is unleashed in Connection to Congo Square, a voluble piece of virtuosic panache redolent of Marsalis’ historic explorations. Shame about the fade out.

Harlem Shuffle is pure anthemic Blue Note Hard Bop, Blakey-style, with appropriate solos all-round. Riley dishes up some Louisiana singing for Tootie Ma, a lagniappe with plenty of avuncular warmth even if – darn it – it too fades out.

A nice straight-ahead album as noted, then, that misses a couple of tricks. Whitfield should have stayed around longer and there should have been a couple of standards. I’ve noticed more and more albums with all-original songs of late, and they’re never as good as ones that mix and match.

Jonathan Woolf

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