The music of Harvie S (Swartz by birth, S by choice), like that of many of the leading jazz musicians, has been in a state of evolution throughout his career as he has moved from one form to another. His progress may not have been as strikingly evident when he was performing with, say, Barry Miles or Steve Kuhn or when he was exploring the vocal duo form with Sheila Jordan. But it is now...now that he has submerged himself into Latin music, which sometimes makes various uses of bass-line ostinato to build layers of improvisation or to establish trance-like oblivion. His is a relatively fresh perspective upon Latin music, which all too often is described in terms of its polyrhythmic percussiveness, instead of its linear movement outlined by bass work. Combining the multitude of Latin forms with the vocabulary of jazz, Harvie S has catalyzed a personalized approach that remains ever dependent on his energizing bass work.
Evidence of his dual-cultural crossover appears immediately on the first track, "Texas Rumba," whose spontaneous combustion happens immediately upon the first hearing of its fierce clavé. When pianist Daniel Kelly breaks loose with an exhilarating performance set up by the entire group, attention must be paid. The audience fortunate enough to hear that performance in May 2003 at Sweet Rhythm in New York did more than pay attention; it reveled in the irresistibility of the group’s music.
One characteristic of S’s recent groups is his highlighting of relatively unknown piano players who are as technically impressive as he and who are in sync with his artistic intentions. For, it seems that S wrote "Momentáno" with Kelly’s abilities in mind; it consists entirely of a piano solo based once again on an ostinato metrical pattern that sets up a flowing, delicate performance made possible by Kelly’s finely attuned senses of touch and texture. As if they were two parts of a larger movements, "Before" follows almost seamlessly from "Momentáno," although with the addition of S’s contrapuntal interplay with Kelly through track-long swelling dynamics.
With Adam Weber surging ahead on drums and Renato Thoms mixing it up on percussion, the group captures the gets-in-your-blood appeal that inspires listeners to dance, or at least not to sit still. The addition of Gregory Rivkin’s fiery trumpet work, consistent with that of Latin groups like Tito Puente’s, as well as saxophonist Scott Robert Avidon’s adaptable voicing, completes the group’s make-up as a band that depends on bass lines for its primary animating characteristic, rather than percussion.
S’s compositions, as would be expected, balance the usual primacy of the Latin percussion with the quieter assertiveness of the bass in directing a group’s motion and setting up a tune’s feel. "Underneath It All," in particular, lets it be known that this is a bassist’s group as S begins the tune with feral atonal bowing before he plucks the melody in unison with Avidon. "Monk’s Mood" as well highlights S’s command of the bass as he solos, extracting insights into the tune through examination of its harmony, playing in double stops, at time in the upper range of the instrument, sounding more like a cello than a bass. And the final solo track, "Floating," suggests buoyancy through flowing implications of gravity-less motion through a wordless universal language that refers to genres that can be defined neither as Latin music nor as jazz.