Stefon Harris and Blackout

At 30 years old, the prodigious vibraphonist Stefon Harris already has three Grammy nominations and four albums for Blue Note under his belt. For Evolution he has assembled a band called Blackout, with the intent of injecting some of the bump and groove of hip-hop and R&B into the jazz pantheon. Yet the band's efforts sound youthful and invigorating without pandering to the populist trends of more contemporary urban musical forms.

Nearly half of the songs on Evolution are covers, but they're all free-spirited interpretations rather than strict copies. It's an eclectic selection, from Sting's ballad "Until" and Bobby Hutcherson's signature "Montara" to South African pianist Hotep Idris Galeta's "King Tut's Strut." Blackout's sumptuous "Summertime" adds serious thump to Gershwin's languid original (courtesy of Terreon Gully's crisp drumming), using the familiar melody as a starting point to explore its own interconnected ideas. The original tracks deservedly share space with the cover versions; the group's signature song "Blackout," a punchy whirlwind of vibes, marimba, and drums, is actually one of the album's best numbers. Evolution has a fresh take on jazz that is undeniably reverent to the genre's history.


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