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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Harlan Jefferson

You’re All I Need

Review by Gary Hill

You’re All I Need is the third CD from Rockford, Illinois based jazz saxophonist Harlan Jefferson. It’s a disc that is at times sheer brilliance. It’s also a disc that, while not perfect, is consistently very strong. It’s definitely a disc worth putting on and letting it flow through the room. It has a solid groove and some great melody. Jefferson seems to have an innate understanding of how to create melodies with his instrument that both captivate and entertain. He envisions powerful melodies and musical visions and possesses the skill to breathe those visions to life through his saxophone. Were we still living the heart of the “jazz is king” era, Jefferson’s name would be heard in the same breath as a lot of the jazz greats. Yes, he’s that good.

The other central strength here is also a weakness. Jefferson’s willingness to stretch out and experiment is apparent in the way the CD works through more musically diverse styles, leaning towards hip hop, techno and R & B. The problem here is that, while I’ve always been a big fan of genre bending music, the strongest bits on this album are those where Jefferson stays the closest to true jazz. The truth is that a lot of those other styles, while having their charms, seem flat and a bit pedestrian compared to the true jazz output. I suppose a good way to look at it is that a lot of artists can pull off good hip hop, R & B and techno – it’s kind of run of the mill. Classy, smooth jazz, on the other hand, is more of a rarity these days. Jefferson should stay more true to this form because it’s definitely his strong point.

As long as we’re examining the weak points of the release, there is one other. Sometimes more is not necessarily a good thing. Seemingly in an effort to give the music fan more for their money, Jefferson has included two versions each of two of the tracks here. While from a completist point of view this is a good thing, it seems to make the CD feel a bit redundant to this listener. I’ve tried just putting it on and letting the flow grab me and I’ve also listened from a critical, intent point of view. In either case once it hits the second versions at the end of the disc I get a definite feeling of “been there, done that.” Now, mind you, this isn’t really a criticism of Jefferson, per se, but rather this trend in general. He’s definitely not the first person to do this and I’m sure he won’t be the last, but frankly, having multiple, nearly identical versions of the same song on a CD makes it a less powerful listening experience as a whole unit. It seems to play more to the modern philosophy of listening to one song at a time, rather than the age old (and sublime) experience of listening to an album as one cohesive unit. I suppose it is a sign of our times, but definitely not one I like.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
You're All I Need (Remix)
The album opens with this slow moving remix groove. Jefferson's horn creates some great melody over the top of this. The female soul vocals are classy and solid. This is the title track and the original version closes the disc, serving as a great bookend. I'm not always a huge fan of remixes, but this one is good. It definitely has some great sax soloing and a tasty sound overall.
Just Groov'in 4 Stella

An instrumental, this has a tasty groove and a bit of funk in its midst.

My My My (Radio Edit)

A cover, this is a song penned by Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. A smooth jazz jam, it reminds me a lot of Chuck Mangione.

Getcho' Step On

There’s a bit more “oomph” on this, but otherwise the format isn’t altered all that much.

He Can Work It Out

This one is a composition by Alphonso “Cheeseburger” McClain. This Christian track has a lot of gospel in its mix. It’s also got both male and female vocals.

A Smooth Sax Man

A smooth jazz groove serves as the backdrop while Harlan Jefferson’s father reads a poem that’s essentially a review of his son. It’s short and quite tasty.

Night Time

This cut has a lot of jazz in it, but there’s also healthy helpings of modern R & B, some scratching and other hints of hip hop.

My My My (Extended Bedroom Version)

As you might guess, this is a different version of the third cut on the disc. It’s more than two minutes longer than the original tune.

You're All I Need (Original)
Here we get the other version of the song that opened the set. It seems odd to me that we heard the remix before the original rendition. It’s basically the same cut with some alterations in the arrangement.
 
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