|Baritone saxophonist Alex Harding|
The baritone saxophonist Alex Harding has finally returned to his native Detroit after many years on the road working with marquee jazz acts such as of Julius Hemphill, the Mingus Big Band, and Roy Hargrove, and becoming a constant force on New York’s jazz scene where his reputation as a top commodity was cemented years ago. To celebrate Harding's homecoming, an organization called Celebrate Detroit, run by jazz supporter Rev. Daniel Aldridge, threw a two-hour tribute for Harding at the St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church Sunday afternoon that was fit for royalty. The tribute was hosted by the popular jazz radio personality Maxine Michaels, and Harding performed with three of his groups, opening the program with a terrific duo with drummer Leonard King, who played brilliantly on each number he soloed on. Next Harding played with a quartet trombonist Vincent Chandler, bassist Rocco Popielarski, and King again on drums. The quartet cooked on a mix of originals and standards such as Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” and Horace Silver’s “Peace”. On those cuts, Harding’s and Chandler’s virtuosity as soloists were on full display. Harding has a gorgeous tone on the baritone, and he has a knack for making the horn sound, at any given moment, like a tenor sax. At key moments of the concert, Harding appeared to have channeled the ghosts of baritone sax Gods Pepper Adams and Harry Carney, clearly two of Harding’s chief influences. Harding and Chandler on the frontline proved to be the perfect match. Chandler is unquestionably among the top tier trombonist in jazz, proving that when the zoom lens was put on him. In the second set, Harding performed with his Organ Nation trio drummer Djallo Dakate and the always soulful organist Jim Alfredson. Alfredson had his organ howling and the church walls sweating. Harding closed the program by calling back on stage all the musicians, and letting them run buck wild on the Meters’ classic “Cissy Strut”. The musicians showed out on that number. It was questionable if the musicians had forgotten they were in a church. Harding ended with a touching original “Spirit Take My Hand” that he composed for his deceased grandmother and father. The two-hour concert was flawless with each musician playing as if it was their last performance on earth. It’s encouraging when an organization such as Celebrate Detroit recognize accomplished Detroit jazz musicians while they’re still alive and swinging.