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Darryl Harper - Chamber Made (Stricker Street)

5 December 2022

The term “chamber jazz” has fairly wide-ranging connotations – just check out the catalog of ECM Records. But Chamber Made, the latest album from clarinetist Darryl Harper, takes the sobriquet literally. Composed by Harper pal Ryan Truesdell, “Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet” is exactly what it says in the title: a three-movement suite performed by Harper and the Wistaria String Quartet. The strings lay down a vibrant bed that combines lush harmonies with discordant slashes, while Harper follows his own melodies over the top, sometimes contributing silky mystery and other times frisky excitement. In the album’s second half, Harper teams with fellow clarinetists Alec Spiegelman, Kenny Pexton and Brian Landrus on Landrus’ triple-movement “Spatial Decor,” an exercise in close harmony and bass drone that still sits in the chamber, just in the corner with the lights down low.

Around those long-form pieces, Harper and his backup group Onus (bassist Matthew Parish and drummer Harry “Butch” Reed, plus special guest bass clarinetist Todd Marcus) extend a hand to the purists in the form of Freddie Bryant’s dense, post-bopping “Kaleidoscope* and Stevie Wonder’s funky political statement “Cash in Your Face.” But Harper expresses himself most purely on Xavier Davis’ “Silence,” a showcase for solo clarinet that finds him channeling his soul through his horn. Those tunes may stretch the album’s concept a bit, especially the Wonder tune, but they still work well within it. Chamber Made lives up to its title, and then some.