Karla Harris and the Joe Alterman Trio
Moon To Gold
Moon To Gold came together quite spontaneously. Jazz singer Karla Harris, a fearless improviser who through her phrasing (not to mention her beautiful voice) has the ability to make each song her own, enjoyed a few successful tours with pianist Joe Alterman and his trio in 2022. Both Harris (whose previous recordings include the standards-oriented Twice As Nice, Karla Harris Sings The Dave And Iola Brubeck Songbook, and Certain Elements which features seven of her originals) and Alterman are important parts of the jazz scene in Atlanta. The pianist (who has released six albums including Piano Tracks Vol. 1, Give Me The Simple Life, Georgia Sunset, Comin’ Home To You, More Cornbread, The Upside Of Down) has been championed by the likes of Les McCann and the late Ramsey Lewis. Alterman is a master of the straight ahead jazz vocabulary and has a soulful approach that is complementary to that of the singer.
During their tours, listeners regularly asked if Harris and Alterman had a joint recording, so they quickly put together an album consisting of four songs cut in the studio and five taken from their live performances. With bassist Kevin Smith (whose occasional solos are always colorful) and drummer Justin Chesarek offering stimulating support, the result is Moon To Gold; its title is taken from the lyrics of “Blue Moon.”
From the beginning of the cheerful version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness Of You,” it is apparent that the matchup between the vocalist and the trio, buoyed by the fresh arrangements, is mutually inspired. “Blue Moon,” which utilizes a rhythmic vamp throughout the performance (while swinging during its bridge), includes a “less is more” chordal piano solo by Alterman that recalls Ahmad Jamal a bit. Dave Frishberg’s ballad “You Are There” is given a touching interpretation by Harris. Bob Dorough’s “Baltimore Oriole” is taken as a forceful strut with Harris sounding both sensual and quite assertive.
“Nature Boy” is given a particularly adventurous treatment with infectious rhythm patterns. Karla Harris’ atmospheric vocal gets wilder as the performance evolves. “Blue Skies” gives everyone a chance to swing and includes a nod towards Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud.” The set concludes with a dramatic transformation of “When Sunny Gets Blue,” a rollicking “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” (which has the passionate singer really pushing herself), and a soulful and uninhibited “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Moon To Gold displays Karla Harris’ powerful yet versatile voice and Joe Alterman’s inventive piano in top form. It certainly makes one want to see their quartet perform live.
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 12 books including Life Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist