David L. Harris’ ‘Blues I Felt’: Horn players make the coolest singers

Self-taught, David L. Harris found his own special, modern jazz groove not long after picking up the trombone seriously at 16. CREDIT: Michelle Colligan

Something’s slightly off about David L. Harris’ singing — when he gets off the trombone — on Blues I Felt, and yet, I don’t really mind all that much.

I think it’s in his vocal choices, to make lyrical that which is harmonically based, or in the background, the sidestepping bridge that enhances the quality of the melody behind the verbal main frame.

As a young, self-taught trombone player, the Baton Rouge, La. native shows a deft facility angling toward an almost unreachable second stanza of contrasting notes well into modern, progressive, at times acid jazz.

Artists tend to stack the odds in their favor on a new recording by putting out the best track first. Harris does just this with his composition, “A Pisces’ Dream,” an immediate, daring rush ushered in by horn and bass.

The composer and arranger wrote “A Pisces’ Dream” from the grounds of sadness, expressing the “frustration of having a dream that includes someone else only to realize the vision must continue with you alone.” He slams the going solo part in righteous glory.

The modern jazz/pop progression which follow an arch, formal bass intro presses and pulls at the heartstrings, conjuring up the good feeling you get from good times, victorious times: your first job, making a new friend on your first day of high school, the night before Christmas tucked inside a ferocious wintery storm.

Instead of dwelling on the dark, minor chords, Harris refocuses the controlled chaos of the song’s beginning toward the fulfillment to come in a beloved, charming melody. The band joins in, sinking into the pleasure bassist Jasen Weaver merely hints at and pianist Shea Pierre tucks into, like a fine wine branching out into a Roman feast — bit by bit.

The first tune is Harris’ show-stopper.

“Moody’s Mood For Love” by James Moody and Eddie Jefferson is a hip bass translation. This superb ode to bass has Weaver skipping and stepping ahead of Harris’s odd-sounding, odd-metered vocal interpretation.

His vocals awkwardly but genuinely comp an almost off-Broadway kinda musical vibe — the part where the leading man woos the ingénue before civil war erupts. It’s hurried, frantic, yet charming at the same time.

The best example of Harris’ unusual singing comes in Joe Raposo’s “Bein’ Green,” which picks up where the 1970’s “Sesame Street”/“Muppets” left off. Second best off Blues I Felt, the song originally about a frog finding something uniquely special about himself becomes entirely different with Harris’s rushed and earnest interpretation.

Like the other vocals on the new album, Harris makes up his own rhythm, scraping up against the easy, well-worn groove of the mainline melody, trying to sing-rap a difference. It works, because Harris uses his instrumental muscles to lift his vocals from the mire of the potentially painful unmelodic space — by playing on the tension between what’s on the page and what’s in the heart.

I still don’t know how he does it. His personality easily shines through, blinding in its charming pleasantry and unadorned sincerity. A lot of trained vocalists who shall not be mentioned could learn from Harris’ natural ability.

Just when I think he’s going wrong, his voice standing there alone, about to warble off-key, he re-tunes himself, righting the levels, matching what could’ve almost been pitchy into a smooth-toned sequence, hugging a portion of the melody through sheer force of will.

His voice then melts away as the band cleans up the ragged edges with unforgettable, smart splashes of humanity: Pierre’s mini-concerto, raised toward a higher level, just so, by drummer Miles Labat shimmering off into the distance.

Beyond the mini-vocal miracle, Harris sing-raps his own version of a tune about a frog to include — by insinuation — self-love in being any color, not just green. He expands without preaching in his enthusiastic conversational style, the words tumbling over and out, not quite polished, not quite bad, in and out of tone, melody, just like his instrumental playing: “I’m green, and I think it’ll do just fine ’cause it’s beautiful, and I think it’s all that I want to be. I’m green, green, green… It doesn’t matter if you’re green.”

Blues I Felt is David L. Harris’ first solo album, out since March 17, 2017.