You may never have heard of the late bari saxophonist, composer and arranger Lee Harris – but the 18-piece Horizons Jazz Orchestra and a few brilliant guest soloists out of South Florida will make sure you’ll be feeling his spirit and the emotional power of his music for a long time.
This vibrant, high energy contemporary big band ensemble evolved from the popular likeminded group called SUPERBAND, which built a solid following as it performed Harris’ compositions and arrangements. Joining forces with SUPERBAND members Dennis Noday (trumpet) and Michael Balogh (trombone), their social media promoter Jeannette C. Pina helped organize the new band that evolved in the wake of Harris’ passing.
On their debut album The Brite Side, the fact that two of the most prominent musicians, Noday and guest trumpeter Carl Saunders, are Stan Kenton band alumni should come as no surprise - because the 10-track collection (featuring four Harris originals and his freewheeling arrangements of six standards – “Maria,” “Summertime,” “Pure Imagination,” et al) is infused throughout with classic Kenton styled dynamics often adapted to contemporary, soul-jazz fusion grooves.
With such a dazzling array of reedsmen, trombonists and trumpeters, it’s easy to take for granted the intense bursts of brassy excitement. Beyond that, the real magic lies in the soloing. As impactful as Saunders’ improvisations are on the lilting middle section of “The Runner” and the hard swinging “After You’ve Gone, Finally,” and as sensually cool as Billy Ross’ tenor sax solo on the closer “A Train Bossa” is, the most unexpected standout is keyboardist Gary Mayone, who brings a fresh and wild retro soul-jazz vibe via Rhodes and organ to “After You’ve Gone, Finally,” the zippy “Fourth Dimension” and the funked-up mid-section of “The Brite Side.”
Though assembled to pay tribute, Horizons Jazz Orchestra also lays a foundation for a bright future in which their muse, Mr. Harris, will never be far from their musical minds.