Make It Happen Reviews


Winard Harper Sextet, "Make it Happen" (Piadrum). Harper's 14-member ensemble, which includes trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, feels like a bucket of ice water for the senses, invigorating and needle sharp. The aggression of Harper's percussive attack is exceeded only by the urgency of his leadership. I don't care what the people say. Hard bop this fresh is here to stay.
- Gene Seymour

Buffalo News

"Sextet" isn't the half of it. Look at the personnel listing on the back, and you'll find no less than 13 musicians in various combinations and arrays who participated in this feisty and winning new disc by the 44-year-old drummer. Nor is this all just the same old, same old - mainstream neo-bop served up with strenuously "fresh" harmonic voicings that would have bored Stravinsky down to his embroidered silk socks.

It leaps in with a ripping version of "Segment," one of Charlie Parker's better but more weirdly ignored melodic slaloms. Thirteen tunes later when Winard lets his pianist T. W. Sample lead them all through a raunchy and soul-tickling version of Avery Parrish's "After Hours," you've been all over the stylistic jazz map with Harper and his buddies. ("The African and Caribbean sound" is the disc's description of its own contents, which is accurate enough except that it bypasses the influences of the music of at least two other continents.) And a splendid posse it is in Harper's company - particularly alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (who does his best to bring the house down on "After Hours") and tenor saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Lawrence Clark.

Harper points to Art Blakey and Billy Higgins as his inspirations and, in his case, that's not just empty "me-tooing." He's a gut-level musical communicator a la Blakey and a pan-ethnic percussion polymorph a la Higgins. Harper knows how much resistance he's up against as a new 2006 kind of "jazz messenger." Accordingly, in the 78 minutes of music on this disc, almost everything is kept in the five- and six-minute neighborhood. It's a Whitman's sampler of what a great young jazz drummer and leader can do, and it couldn't be tastier.
- Buffalo News - Jeff Simon  6/06


Chicago Defender

In the jazz idiom, very few master musicians have held the title of leader while pounding out the heartbeat of any great band behind the drum set since legends Art Blakey and Max Roach.

Winard Harper, however, has proven since the late ‘80s to be one of the true great bandleaders who sits behind a drum kit while pushing his ensemble to explore international sounds ranging from African to Caribbean to Afro-Cuban, all wrapped around the core of Hard Bop jazz.

Chicagoans will get to experience the full spectrum of Harper’s rhythms Tuesday through Sunday during his six-day engagement at the famous Joel Siegel’s Jazz Showcase club, 59 W. Grand Ave. Harper told the Defender Friday - speaking from his New Jersey digs - that he won’t veer from what he usually brings when requested to play in the Windy City.

“Hopefully as always, (we’ll bring) good music and an exciting time” Harper said. “But it’s a young an exciting band. At this time I’m working hard trying to keep the tradition going of giving younger artists a place to develop. I’m trying to create an environment where the guys can spend about three to four years and move on.  “They may have to stay longer because the industry and the market are not supporting (jazz music) like they did several years ago. When we came on the scene, there were not a lot of bands, but a lot of places to play. Now, there are a lot of bands, but not a lot of places to play.” The tradition of letting younger musicians develop and grow into their own leaders has been a tried and true concept for Harper in his own development as an internationally renowned and well-respected musician.

One just needs to go down the who’s who list of jazz legends and chances are you will find that the 44-year-old drummer held down the beat for those artists. Some on the list include: the late saxophonist colossus Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane’s disciple Pharoah Sanders, pianists Ray Bryant and Tommy Flanagan and tenor-saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman (long-time key musician in Ray Charles’ band).

But it’s Harper’s long-time association with the late great jazz singer Betty Carter that shaped him in more ways than just developing his music chops. “With some people, you may learn more about the music,” Harper said. “Betty was a good band leader and I learned a lot about the business working for her.”

Harper continues to incorporate his love for African rhythms into the music, as he always have over the three decades he been a professional bandleader, starting off with his older brother Philip Harper and the legendary ‘80s Harper Brothers ensemble. He hasn’t had to compromise his music by adding the African element, he said.

Harper’s latest sextet albums, “Make it Happen,” (Piadrum) consists of four additional percussionists mixing intoxicating rhythms with the trap-drum, bass, piano and horn section.

“The Hardest thing about recordings is the budget,” Harper said. “But this new label helped me explore and take some risks. And an African percussionist has been in my touring bands for the last eight years. That is one of the things (drummer) Billy Higgins inspired me about, looking ahead and incorporating African rhythms.” ...
- Chicago Defender - Demetrius Patterson  7/06



For a portion of Make it Happen, seasoned jazz drummer Harper seems to be really on to something: augmenting standard trap drums with an array of exotic percussion. These world-music touches lend an air of exotica to what is essentially a conventional, horn-heavy post-bop album. "Children of the World" features a loping beat driven by an African talking drum that melds beautifully with its more orthodox jazz melody to create a truly beguiling piece of music. Problem is, Harper doesn't go to the well enough. There are too many standardized renditions of standards and jazz originals that, while ably performed, don't attain the same level of innovation or excitement.
- Weeklyplanet.com - Eric Snider  7/06




Prior to his launching of “The Harper Brothers Quintet,” drummer Winard Harper commenced his then, budding career with sax god, Dexter Gordon. And he proceeded to hone his performing persona with vocal great, Betty Carter. Nonetheless, Harper is a jazz firebrand who shines as a passionate student of the art form. On this divergent release, he conveys his multifaceted abilities with snappy fills while steering his band thru brisk bop-vamps and more!

With punchy horns choruses and radiant soloing by trumpeter Josh Evans and alto saxophonist Antonio Hart among others, the changeable sextet abides by an up-tempo disposition. On this endeavor, the musicians partake in warmly stated balladry, African percussion vamps and gritty organ grooves, coupled with Harper’s variable rhythmic forays. Variety is the key, as the ensemble covers a gamut of cross-cultural, jazz induced mechanisms. Either way, Harper is a dashing drummer who encompasses traditional mainstream stylizations with elements of flash and élan.

The musicians periodically throttle the energetic proceedings back a step or two via blithely arranged, toe-tapping grooves. But on the turbo-charged swing/bop numbers, the drummer often injects multihued accents with zippy fills. On the piece titled “After Hours,” pianist T.W. Sample renders a Professor Longhair motif amid a drawling, walking-blues pattern. Overall, Harper’s methodology translates into a smashing success, brimming with a charismatic sound and scope, largely driven by finesse and sheer firepower.
- ejazznews.com - Glenn Astarita  7/06


The Skanner

This is a radically different Winard Harper aggregation from the bands he brought in times past to Seattle and Portland.

Most importantly, he has two new horn players - tenorist Lawrence Clark and trumpeter Josh Evans, a pair that are talented plus.  And on this recording, he adds alto saxophonist Antonio Hart on three tracks.  Hart evokes Cannonball Adderley with his driving solo on "I've Never Been in Love Before."  Harper also employs tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard on a pair: "Segment" and "chronic Mistake."

Harper uses Wycliffe Gordon on trombone on three tracks and his didgeridoo on the title tune, "Make it Happen."  If that isn't enough, there is also a four person percussive section in addition to Harper's drums.  "Children of the World" features Clark's tenor, and he makes the most of the opportunity to stretch out, as does Evans on trumpet.  Pianist T.W. Sample recreates Avery Parrish's "After Hours," which is more percussive than the original but maintains its empathy.  Gordon's trombone growls his way through a chorus, as do Clark and Evans.

"The Prayer" is the last of 15 tracks, with Harper opening on balafon, a West African instrument that is both percussive and melodic and gets its sound from a set of tone bars laid across a frame and struck with a mallet.  It concludes a wonderful recorded program with solid compositions excellently executed by fine musicians. 
- The Skanner - Dick Bogle  (*****) 7/06




Winard Harper is a talented drummer whose influences include Art Blakey, Max Roach, Jackie McLean, and Cannonball Adderley, but whose most profound influence is drummer Billy Higgins. Higgins influenced Harper not only as a drummer, but as a musician whose sense of joy and discovery was palpable, both live and on record. In addition, Higgins was interested in music from all over the world and in sometimes-exotic instruments. All of these influences come across on the latest recording by the Winard Harper Sextet, Make It Happen.

This disc truly has the appeal of an instant classic. Exploring African and Carribean rhythms in compositions by Harper, various band members, special guests, and jazz greats, the band provides a nearly perfect seventy-eight minute program of music. Released on the small independent label Piadrum, this is nonetheless one of the best jazz small group recordings to arrive during the course of the year thus far.

The opener, Charlie Parker’s “Segment” features a bebop front line playing over a rhythm section that displays distinctly West Indian overtones. Stacy Dillard provides a meaty tenor solo over this rhythmic crosscurrent, followed by the straight-ahead bop statement from trumpeter Josh Evans. Pianist Sean Higgins provides a montuno section that leads into his own hard-driving solo before the head returns. Ruben Browne’s “Children of the World” opens with a salvo of talking drum, conga, and various other percussion instruments. “This is the first time I have been able to put all of the percussionists together on one record” says Harper, referring to the four percussionists featured on Make It Happen. T.W. Sample’s piano work brings a McCoy Tyner edge to the proceedings, and the tune’s modal melody is vaguely Trane-ish.

Guests abound on this recording, including alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, who contributes his playing to “Morning Glow,” “Tamisha,” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.” Wycliffe Gordon plays trombone on “Make It Happen,” his own composition “Get It! Get It!,” and “After Hours.” He also contributes an introduction on didgeridoo to the title track, a world music experiment that morphs into a very funky track with some fine keyboard work from T.W. Sample. What’s so great about this CD is that the music goes from style to style seemingly organically. There’s never a sense that the musicians thought “Oh, let’s get some Caribbean influence in right here! Let’s play some funk now. OK, now we’re playing straight-ahead.” Like the music of one of Harper’s influences, Cannonball Adderley, the music flows because Harper is focused on making the music sound good to the listener. But in doing so, he never has to lower his musical standards; instead he allows the musicians he’s picked to interact and create a unique sound.

Other particularly interesting tracks include the Carribean-tinged version of Ray Bryant’s bluesy “Reflection,” the winding exotica of Harper’s composition “Divine Surveillance,” the drum and percussion solo “BandBangBoomBoomBapBap,” and the final number, the African percussion ensemble tour de force “The Prayer.”

While Harper’s sextet grows ever more interesting, he continues to maintain a heavy schedule as a side man to musicians such as Joe Lovano, Ray Bryant, Wycliffe Gordon, and Jimmy Heath. That ensures that Winard Harper will continue to absorb interesting ideas from a variety of musical influences, and he will find ways to utilize these ideas on future recordings, I am certain. For now, get your hands on a copy of Make It Happen, and you’ll be able to say you were in on one of the year’s best releases way back in July.
- Jazzitude - Marshall Bowden  7/06




Besides being a dynamic, inventive drummer, Winard Harper effortlessly juggles an ecumenical array of genres, including African, Caribbean, world music, bebop, hard bop, blues, ballads and virtually any style that fits his artistic vision.

On 15 swinging, sweetly succinct tracks here, the percussionist/composer/band leader incorporates his all-embracing eclecticism and originality into a bright, vibrant package that spills over with delights.

Immediately, Harper ignites a dynamite version of the rarely heard Charlie Parker piece, "Segment." Its power-packed elements feature a brisk contribution from Josh Evans, the phenomenal young trumpeter and former protégé of the late Jackie McLean. On the title track, Harper's expressive mallet work on balafon, and guest trombonist Wycliffe Gordon's evocative didgeridoo musings, generate a charming, jazzy world music ambience.

On "After Hours," a raffish blues, Gordon wails on muted trombone that all but speaks. On an urbane version of "I've Never Been in Love Before," alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, a guest artist; tenor saxophonist Lawrence Clark and Evans play fine back-to-back solos.

Harper builds this ebullient album around his sextet, special guests and his percussion choir that cooks up rich rhythms with its varied instruments.

On the improvised, onomatopoetically titled track, "BangBangBoomBoomBapBap," the drummer displays his ingenuity and humor. Mixing swing and spirituality, Harper's crisp, celebratory statements are life-affirming rituals in rhythm that make the soul clap its hands and sing.
- ctnow.com - Owen Mcnally  7/06

"The band is tight...musicians who listen and breathe as one..."
- JazzTimes

"As tasteful a drummer as one could ask for..."
- JazzTimes

"No other drummer captures the spirit of Art Blakey more than Winard Harper. … Blakey surely would have loved this band."
- Chicago Sun-Times

"Not since Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers has there been as exciting a group in jazz as the Winard Harper Sextet. The drummer-led group is one of the hottest acts around."
- Modern Drummer

"The night culminated, like an evening of fireworks, with a sustained display of percussive pyrotechnics by Harper so rapid fire, so mind-boggling dexterous, and so expressively diverse, as to be truly awe-inspiring."
- All About Jazz

"…Harper's wonderfully 'orchestrated' solos alone might have forced a corpse to grin."
- The Washington Post

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