One of my favourite albums over the last couple of years is ALLAN HARRIS’S ‘Kate’s Soulfood’. To my shame I knew very little about Mr Harris save that he is a Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based soul and jazz vocalist/guitarist/bandleader/composer who made his recording debut way back in 1994! He has a slew of albums to his name and Tony Bennett no less once described him as his favourite singer! ‘Kate’s Soulfood’ yielded plenty of gems like the lovely ‘Autumn’ and the magical ‘I Grew Up (Kate’s Place)’ – a paean to his Harlem roots with the cut having a strong affinity to Gregory Porter’s ‘On My Way To Harlem’.

Allan has just released a new album and it’s very different. For starters it’s a live set –  ‘Live At Blue Llama’, recorded in January of this year at the famed Ann Arbor jazz club. Then, where  ‘Kate’s Soulfood’ had a definite contemporary soul edge this live 10 tracker sees Allan doing what he does best – singing and playing straight ahead jazz at an intimate club packed with  jazz devotees.

For the show the singer was backed by pianist/keyboardist Arcoiris Sandoval, bassist Marty Kenney, drummer Norman Edwards and saxophonist-flutistIrwin Hall and right from the start you can hear the honest, musical empathy between that band and Harris. That opener by the way is a version of Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’. It’s been covered so many times that’s it’s now almost a standard but here Allan manages to offer fresh perspectives on the very familiar. Ditto the versions of ‘Nature Boy’ (here stretched out over to  11 minutes!) and a take on Oscar Brown Jr’s ever-lovely ‘Jeanine’. On this one Harris and the quartet deliver something totally different. The Brown original is jaunty but here the tempo’s taken down to reflect the  loss that the protagonist feels at losing the eponymous lady. The cut stretches to over six minutes effectively becoming a duet (or should we say duel?) between pianist Sandoval and Hall’s frantic sax.

Amongst the other offerings is ‘New Day’ one of the key cuts on the aforementioned ‘Kate’s Soulfood’…catchy and melodic it serves as a reminder to dig out the parent long player! The other songs  include a take on Nat King Cole’s ‘The Very Thought Of You’ (a reminder that Allan’s first live album was a Nat Cole tribute), a take on Miles Davis’s ‘So What’ on which Allan offers his version of the famous vocalese of the Eddie Jefferson 1968 cover complete with the “walking off stage” episode! This live set’s  other cover is a gentle, building reading of Chick Corea/Al Jarreau’s ‘Spain’

ALLAN HARRIS; ‘Live At Blue Llama’ is out now via Love Productions Records in collaboration with Live at Blue LlAma Records