Stefon Harris and Blackout
Urbanus [Concord Jazz, 2009]
Washington, D.C. native Ben Williams first met vibraphonist/composer Stefon Harris when Williams was an 8th grader. Apparently it was just the head start he needed to get into this absolutely burning modern jazz outfit before even turning 25. This group is not screwing around; the heads, forms, syncopations, and grooves drawing on everything from swing, R&B, funk, pop and hip-hop are aggressive, challenging, and downright butt-shaking when they want to be. Williams has already won a bunch of jazz competition awards and played with Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, and Meshell Ndegeocello, but in case you need further convincing, moments in three consecutive tracks will blow your hair back: the funky unison ostinato in “Tankitifed,” the syncopations and bass breaks over the upswing blues form of “Shake It For Me,” and the frenetic hard swing groove in the jagged “Minor March.” The album’s bonus is a vocoder-drenched, masterfully jazz/funkedup version of Stevie Wonder’s 1974 classic “They Won’t Go (When I Go),” a tune Stevie re-introduced to the whole world at the Michael Jackson memorial service in early July. Sometimes you just get lucky when you choose a cover.