The band on this album is tremendously cohesive. So much so it should really be called "The Barry Harris Group" or "The Barry Harris Quintet". Featured is Charles Davis on tenor saxophone, Roni Ben-Hur on guitar, Paul West playing bass, and Leroy Williams behind the drums. It is obvious from the first note that this is a working group who has been playing together for years. Such is the benefit of a live album. Every tune, every phrase contains a telepathy between and among all group numbers. The rhythm section anticipates solo lines with their fills; and the soloist moves the direction so subtly that it is barely even detectable. It is easy to imagine that this is because they all come from the same school of playing - the Barry Harris school.
"Casbah" begins the program. It is among the two tunes on the album by bop legends from the past (if you don’t include "To Dizzy With Love" and "Monking Around", both by Harris). The other is "Round Midnight". "Casbah" is by Tadd Dameron, who many consider alongside Bud Powell as a bop pioneer. This tune is medium tempo, and illustrates perfectly the fluidity of a group led by a pianist who knows how to swing. Harris’ comping is beyond masterful. Utilizing chromaticism, rubato, fills, and various other techniques, his hands provide the framework on which the rest of the band can build.
Similarly brilliant are Harris’ performances on "Monking Around" and "Round Midnight". The three separate introductions for the latter illustrate his education, the rest of the tunes illustrate his heart. Making use of syncopation, voicings, angular melodies, and melodic intuition, he summons Thelonious not from the past, but from his own experience as a modern musician.
"Two Step" is a piece by drummer Leroy Williams. Unlike most drummers’ tunes, this is melodic as opposed to rhythmic. Leroy even chooses to use brushes for most of the tune, giving up his sticks - and center stage. Here we hear the guitar solo is especially well-matched to Mr. Harris. Ben-Hur uses similar melodies and improvisational lines (without resorting to imitation or mimicking). As the tune progresses, the solos stray more and more from the basic melodic head. However, when the piano re-enters, we are called back home. This is further evidence of Harris’ comfort on the keys. Rather than being caught up in the excitement, he is able to direct his own will, moving the music forward, rather than being washed away in its tide.
The final tune on the album is "7-4-3". Harris asks for any numbers from one to eight from the audience and then improvises a tune on those numbers. It is not much more than pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but illustrates Harris’ appreciation for the audience. He knows as a performer how important the audience is.
Live from New York is an exceptional album for this time period. It is in its own way unique. It is absolutely vital to continue to appreciate the music that comes from the living legends like Barry Harris. It is where we come from. And without knowing where we come from, we can have no knowledge of where we are going. Of course, this music won’t change the world - it already has.