Harold Little — Akoben

July 23, 2017

Here’s a project that’s not just interesting musically but historically, as well. The artist, Washington DC, native Harold Little, a trumpeter who favors the fusion of jazz, funk, R&B, and old-school hip hop, draws on his DC roots that boast as part of its culture the Chuck Brown go-go groove. Expanding on that, the very title of his debut release Akoben, speaks to the relevance and respect he gives to the “war horn” (for purposes of reference and context, Akoben is a wind instrument of West African origin used in summoning warriors to the battlefield. It symbolizes love, devotion, and service. Seeing this symbol is supposed to encourage people to be ready at all times to serve their nations even in times of war.

As informative and interesting as this tidbit of African history is, the music here is not to be outdone by this point of significant fact but is rather enhanced by it.

This exotic and eclectic blend of material is vibrant, colorful, and smoothly melodic. It breathes and moves to its own vibe and brings the listener along for an experience-filled ride that should be quite difficult to forget. There is a solid uniqueness to its groove and texture. In a word, it has personality.

Leading off with “East of the River,” a mid-tempo tune thick with all of the musical influences of the genres previously mentioned, Little demonstrates that he was intent on capturing you from the very start and holding on to the groove in you throughout this album. Full-bodied and alive with rhythm & funk, it hits that spot dead on where you live.

Little wrote and produced most of the tracks here. What he didn’t pen, he renders with passionate interpretations and high quality. Such is the case with Don Raye’s and Gene de Paul’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” featuring the beautiful and silky vocals of Heidi Martin, and the classic “Take Five.”

The title track brings home that West African spirit and exoticism in a sea of melody and great horn work. Kudos to flutist Jamal Brown for a very classy offering to complement Little here.

Funk again steps to the forefront on the sassy “Stanky Weed,” and more beauty abounds with the riveting vocals of Karen Linette on “We Need Love” accompanied by a stunning vocal presentation from a choir of celestial voices bringing it to you in perfect and driven harmony. True work of art.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge the excellent job of keeping this entire album in a funky zone by the trio of bassists used interchangeably (Kris Funn, Rodney “LRod” Lewi, and Adrian “Egg” Norton). Together with the other fine musicians, they keep this gem walkin’ tall.

All in all, if getting his groove and message across effectively was this DC trumpeter’s goal, he easily achieved it in this writer’s opinion. This is the kind of material that finds a place in your heart, and you find yourself looking forward to what he offers next time around to equal or top this. A++ effort. – Ronald Jackson