Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson opened a six-night run at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday with a typically hard-swinging sextet.
No special news there, since Henderson, whether performing with a trio, a quartet, a big band or whatever, always manages to produce music rich in rhythm and overflowing with imagination.
What was news was the presence of vibist Stefon Harris. Already identified as a versatile and talented young artist with a record deal of his own, he more than justified the buzz about his playing.
In fact, let's put it plainly and directly: If any single young jazz artist is going to be a major star in the next few years, it's Harris. And he's doing it on an instrument that--with the possible exceptions of Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson--has not exactly been a powerful vehicle for jazz visibility.
It was Harris who brought the set to life, after a competent but not especially scintillating opening in which each of the musicians in Henderson's band had a crack at the saxophonist's favorite starting point--Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan." And, after Henderson's initially moody, eventually busy tour through "Body and Soul," Harris reconstructed the tune, tossing in a whimsical reference to "Prisoner of Love" and finding clear, melodic riffs in a piece that is more commonly rendered via altered chromatic harmonies.
Harris, like Henderson, is a player who is never less than compelling, and the most engaging segments of the set were those in which they worked as a pair, accompanied only by bass and drums.
By the end of the performance the rest of the band (trumpeter Eddie Allen and trombonist Vincent Chandler on the front line, with bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Eric Harland) had cranked into high gear, justifying Henderson's decision to bring a somewhat larger ensemble than usual. But the real appeal of this week's run will be the opportunity to hear a gifted and potentially important young artist--Harris--at an emerging stage in his career.
* The Joe Henderson Sextet at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (213) 466-2210. 8:30, 10:30 p.m. $20 cover for early shows, $18 for late shows tonight, Saturday; $18 for both shows Sunday. With two-drink minimum.