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Harper, Fleck and Diabate at Jazz Alley
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Harper, Fleck and Diabate at Jazz Alley

by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

Winard Harper Sextet, Bela Fleck and Toumani Diabate
August 4-5, 10-11
Jazz Alley


Seasoned jazz drummer Winard Harper brought his sextet of young up-and-coming musicians to Seattle for a two-night engagement at the Jazz Alley on August 4 and 5. Harper has had the good fortune to be mentored by some of America's greatest jazz artists. As a young man, he cut his teeth performing and/or recording with the likes of Betty Carter, Dexter Gordon, Ray Bryant, Pharoah Sanders, Clifford Jordon, Jimmy Heath and Dr. Billy Taylor. He co-founded the Harper Brothers band and has been traveling with his own sextets for 20 years. Dedicated to musical education, he has now become the mentor to many young jazz musicians. His sextet reflects his encouragement and support for emerging artists by featuring accomplished new musicians on the music scene and showcasing their talents. His sextet included John Notar on piano, Bruce Harris on trumpet, Jovan Alexander on tenor sax and Seth Lewis on acoustic bass - all of who are in their 20s. For their Seattle performance, they were joined by special guest Manimu Camara on African djembe drum. Camara is from Guinea and now lives in Seattle.

Harper also plays balafon, a West African marimba and precursor to the xylophone, glockenspiel and vibraphone. The balafon has a sweet, mellifluous sound, and Harper utilized his to open the next piece and swirl in and out with the djembe and other percussion. The balafon and djembe each soloed, then worked their way together into duets as the bass kept an exciting pace. Harper added his trap drums and the band turned the funk rhythm into a feel-good, New Orleans-style number, in which Harper performed an incredible drum solo which showed the timing, facility, ease and incredible drum chops that have made him one of the great jazz drummers of his generation.

Grammy winners Bela Fleck and Toumani Diabate performed in a duo setting on August 10 and 11. Bella Fleck is known for stretching and exploring new musical territories for the banjo. Toumani Diabate is an internationally renowned master kora player from Mali, is a Griot (keeper of oral history and praise singer) and comes from a family lineage of kora players, passed from father to son. He is the 71st generation of kora players in his family. The kora is a 21-string harp/lute, played with the thumbs and forefingers.

Each took turns alone on their instruments for short solo segments in the show, including Fleck switching to a wonderful, deep sounding cello banjo, on which he played a piece he learned while traveling in Africa. It was uncanny how appropriate and perfect the cello banjo sounded on the African piece, and it was very satisfying to listen to.

Diabate's playing is soothing and trancelike, sweet and dulcet, as well as deep, rich and very gentle. The audience at Jazz Alley was totally entranced. Diabate was appointed UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador in 2008. He is known for his AIDS advocacy and outreach and for using his music to empower people and spread awareness about AIDS.

Fleck and Diabate closed their set with a funny, unexpected and relaxed version of "Dueling Banjos." Their musical collaboration is a very special one and it was an unusual and highly anticipated privilege to see and hear these great international musicians perform together in the intimate environs of Jazz Alley.

For more information on up coming events at Jazz Alley, visit www.jazzalley.com.

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