Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Album Review: Donald Harrison - Indian Blue

Donald Harrison 
Indian Blues
***** out of *****

The fantastic Tipitina's Record Club newest offering is a re-release of a criminally under-appreciated, Indian Blues by Donald Harrison. Originally released in 1992 to mixed reviews, now a gorgeous gun-smoke gray double vinyl houses this unique mix of jazz, New Orleans Black Masking Indian chants, funk and R&B complete with new packaging and original linear notes from Lee Jeske. 

If you have seen the HBO show Treme, there is a storyline regarding Delmond Lambreaux trying to fuse his high brow, NYC influenced jazz with his NOLA roots. While the viewer never gets to hear the full results, this is them, as the character was based on Harrison himself who consulted on the show. Harrison took his work with Art Blakely's Jazz Messengers and his upbringing as the son of Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. and combined them with immense success.

These songs are enchanting and energizing, mysterious and open; a meld of styles that completely works on every level. With a supporting cast of Dr. John, The Guardians of The Flame Mardi Gras Indians and jazz professionals like Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Phil Bowler (bass), Carl Allen (drums), Howard "Smiley" Ricks (percussion), and Bruce Cox (tambourine). The record moves through the influences, at times blending, at times separating, but always engaging. 

Donald Harrison Sr. is a large presence on the album as well, singing lead vocals on three tracks as he raised Donald Jr. in the Black Masking Indian tradition. Opener "Hu-Ta-Nay" drops the listener directly into a full fledged Indian practice session (with smooth sax) that is soaring. A killer opening as Dr. John and Harrisons sax work do the lead call to the background response. 

The whole double album should be experienced as each song shines bright, whether it is the latin flair of "Hiko Hiko" which gives the classic New Orleans tune some spice before breaking mid-song into a gorgeous piano stroll or the moody version of "Indian Red" which takes the wild man out of it and substitutes smooth bass work and moody atmospherics. Harrisons horn work is everywhere, slick and confident the leader of this unique collection directing everything with an air of grace. 

The dynamic "Uptown Ruler" moves in many different directions but always flows towards freedom with exciting horns piano and percussion. The tight flowing "Big Chief" is a fast moving track which gets cooled out by Harrison's sweet horn as it seamlessly slides into "Walkin' Home" before "Shave'Em Dry" gets some swagger on to end the record with a smile and a strut. 

Jeske's excellent linear notes equate the album to walking between stages at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and picking up flavors from all that makes New Orleans great, which is true, but there is also a larger sound that links it all. It all started here, in the swamps, fields and specifically at Congo Square in New Orleans, Harrison and crew instill the songs with sophistication without ever sacrificing the soul of the music.    

This album has been an RtBE favorite for years and this gorgeous vinyl only makes the experiment that much sweeter.  A joyful mix of New Orleans sounds throughout history, Indian Blues by Donald Harrison is a dynamite listen from start to finish. 
Join the record club, buy the album and peep some video below:

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