A vocalist since early childhood, Roderick Harper sings with elegance and ease. The Washington, D.C., native studied jazz with the late Alvin Batiste at Southern University in Baton Rouge as well as technique-enhancing classical voice.
In New Orleans, Harper and the Nola Dukes gig at venues including Snug Harbor, the Royal Sonesta Hotel and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. They perform out of town, too, in many other Louisiana locales and as far away as Biloxi, Detroit and Chicago.
Harper recorded his new album, Perfect Imperfections, at Neutral Sound Studio in New Orleans. It’s a warm and cozy set of seven standards plus two compositions each by contemporary trumpeter-composers Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton. Collectively, the songs demonstrate Harper’s vocal finesse and interpretive gifts.
Most of Perfect Imperfections’ selections feature the album’s resident jazz trio, pianist Oscar Rossignoli, bassist Robin Sherman and drummer Chris Guccione. The project’s palette, however, shifts unexpectedly when Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes keyboards replace the acoustic piano in the two Marsalis pieces, “In the Court of King Oliver” and “Rosewood,” as well as Payton’s “Shades of Hue.” There’s also a string trio in Harper’s blissful take on Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “My Romance” and a gospel blues–sounding Hammond organ in Louis Jordan’s 1946 hit, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’.”
While the varied instrumentation and instrumental solos work, Harper remains the captain of his ship. He smoothly weaves the Marsalis and Payton songs alongside such familiar classics as “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Green Dolphin Street” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” That seamlessness also holds true for the soul singing Harper does for Payton’s “Give Light, Live Light, Love.”
Marsalis’ “In the Court of King Oliver,” an homage to New Orleans jazz greats, is especially fun. While the trio bounces and swings, Harper sings the story: “In the court of New Orleans they came, swinging songs they made. Form the heart of New Orleans to Chicago’s swinging scene. Pops played for a while, but then he went on his way. He never will forget the memories they made.”
Harper, in touch with tradition though he is, is making new jazz memories.