Review: THE QUINTIN HARRIS TRIO Makes Sweet Music at Birdland

A classy act shapes jazz standards. Catch them tomorrow, Saturday April 13th

By: Apr. 12, 2024
Review: THE QUINTIN HARRIS TRIO Makes Sweet Music at Birdland
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Lean in and listen.  Here’s a soft-spoken gentleman with a gentle touch on the keyboard and low-key vocal style.  Dressed in a dapper style, Quintin Harris dresses the standards with tailored jazz coatings and alterations that make them shimmer rather than a set that sets off fireworks.  He seems to understand understatement.  Melody lines and lyrics are approached in a thoughtful manner, explored tenderly — as if they are precious, prized fragile antiques that could break if handled cavalierly.  (There’s some wisdom in that.)  Although he’s in his mid-20s, the styles and influences absorbed suggest the mellowed maturity of an “old soul” and/or the ultimate musical sponge.  I was pleased to see the talented fellow, still in his mid-20s, on April 6 at Birdland (in the larger street-level space) with his regular colleagues — bassist Sam AuBuchon and drummer Marlen Suero-Amparo, two fine players and fellow William Paterson University music students. This is the Quintin Harris Trio. 

The program began with a very gentle instrumental.  As he acknowledged,  it was modeled on pianist Ahmad Jamal’s tiptoe treatment of “Like Someone in Love” that had incorporated the title song of The Sound of Music. The sound of this music was in “Quiet Quintin” mode, with laser-beam focus that set and met the expectation for the audience to pay close attention for a night of nuances and new flavors added to old song’s usual recipes. With the second selection came the first vocal – another standard: “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” suitably dreamy.  When jazz folks take liberties — planned or improvised — it’s often said that they “bend” notes.  When Mr. Harris does so, the bending doesn’t suggest an aggression that would make them break; it’s more like the notes are being caressed, lovingly guided to an alternate choice that realigns the line so the emphasis is switched to an unexpected word. It’s like someone at a stage production’s lighting board employing a pin spotlight to direct your attention to the face of a certain actor in a group scene.  And these little interesting surprises and unexpected tempi and embellishments refresh these chosen ballads we fans of the Great American Songbook classics have heard so many times (frequent flyer miles with “Skylark,” seemingly a lifetime of hearing “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” and more, like “The More I See You”). So, I was pulled in by the potency of the hushed, sweet sincerity and slow-burning embers that made it all warm.  

Owing to confidence, a desire to stay in his comfort zone lane, professional respect, friendship of some combination thereof, the leader leaves much of the more vigorous playing to the other two members of The Quintin Harris Trio. Wisely, they don’t subscribe to the theory that, in every section of a number, everybody has to play together.  In fact, in a part of “Alone Together,” he sings, but doesn’t touch the keyboard for a while.  And he seems pleased to give his partners prominence.  On drums, Marlen Suero-Amparo is skillful and finds variety, but never resorts to flashy thunderstorms.  Gratifyingly, bassist Sam AuBuchon gets to very deftly and frequently really pluck melody lines at length, rather than just be relegated and delegated to dutifully keep the pulse underneath piano-led songs.  The  strong solos of this man in the sporty red beret command and please our ears.  Trumpeter Dakarai Barclay from Chicago was an extra added attraction, guesting on one number, adding moody reverie to the story-song “A Sinner Kissed an Angel.”  

Worthier commentary or song histories and a little more variety could benefit future sets. There was a tendency to depend on concluding numbers by echoing some of the last line of a lyric to build to the very last words (“That was the night [pause] – That was the night [pause] —  That was the night I fell in love.”)  And it might be worth picking a change-of-pace piece that would pick up the tempo…. or maybe something lighthearted or of more recent vintage.  

Some nightclub attendees who previously caught Quintin Harris as half of a double act may find this subtler side of him to be a surprise and revelation.  His duo doings with longtime pal Bryce Edwards (a talented entertainer who also has played Birdland with his band) showed both with vocal oomph and a flair for comedy. Clearly, this fellow has more than a couple of musical quivers in his bow that he aims to show us in shows to come!           

For starters, The Quintin Harris Trio is back at Birdland tomorrow on Saturday, April 13 at 5:30 pm. Tickets are available here.



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