Alex Harding’s main instrument is the baritone saxophone. He doubles on bass clarinet and can play almost any single reed instrument. The baritone is the least employed of the four major saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor & baritone). In the jazz context, four influential names outline the big horn’s place. Beginning in the swing era, it was Harry Carney who anchored the Ellington Orchestra saxophone section for over forty years. During the bebop revolution there was my man Cecil Payne. Gerry Mulligan followed immediately thereafter and became a major purveyor of the cool jazz style. Coltrane era modern jazz up to the present, Hamiet Bluiett has been the dominant sound.
Harry Carney was the first person I heard use circular breathing, enabling him to hold a note seemingly forever or for at least as long as he felt like doing so. Carney was known for the richness of his bottom sound. The major stylistic development happened with Blueitt who is known for his unparalleled technique. Bluiett could play as fast as the fleetest alto saxophonist but more than just fast, he could play higher in the altissimo range of the horn than nearly any other saxophonist living or deceased—and that’s saying a whole lot.
Now on the scene is Mr. Alex Harding. To my ears, Alex is an extension of Harry Carney in the fullness of his sound but what I really, really dig is Harding’s bluesy adventurousness. He has a swagger and doesn’t hesitate to blow highly imaginative solo flights which are harmonically sophisticated but at the same time anchored in a burly blues sound that is emotionally enticing. He plays like I imagine Rashaan Roland Kirk would have played the baritone had not my man been busy playing three other horns at one time. (And, hold your horses, yes, we do have some Rashaan in the not to distant BoL future.)
As far as music goes, I’m a jazz lover and a Coltrane freak. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to plan out BoL line-ups and keep it diverse. I could do jazz from now until I die and not cover all the music I want to share. At the same time, I am aware that most of our readers are not as into jazz as I am and moreover that there is so many other types of black music that I want to share—plus, there is not a ton of commercially available recent jazz recordings I’m really crazy about. All of which means that I post less jazz than I’d like to share.
I’m really, really high on Alex Harding, so here’s more than an hour of honest modern jazz by a Detroit native who gives props to his homeboy baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. Adams was a stalwart of the hard bop scene and recorded a whole series of lover-ly albums with trumpeter Donald Byrd. (Like I said there’s a ton of music yet to be posted—BoL is going to be around for a long, long time.)
Anyway, Alex Harding is doing something really interesting: he’s combining a blues sound with modern jazz (including avant garde) stylistic developments. Plus, he’s exciting in how he utilizes various genres and styles of music.
His mixtape opens with an obviously church influenced composition called “Spirit Take My Hand." The composition is from his The Calling album featuring Harding’s Blutopia band: Alex Harding: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Lucian Ban: piano; Brad Jones: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums; Andrew Daniels: percussion. The same band follows with “Southern Dawn," a composition that has a Randy Weston-like roll to it with it’s bad bass line over which Harding roots down and triumphantly bellows like a rutting bull at breeding time. My man handles up on his horn. Indeed, the whole 2006 Blutopia recording is one of the best small combo releases in a long time.