Street Date: February 12, 2021
Label: Love Productions
Kates Soulfood is a spirited, soul-drenched ten track recording that pays homage to Allan Harris’ home of Harlem, NYC as only he can.
Showcasing his brisk baritone and deft songwriting ability, Harris’ fourteenth release as a leader paints a vivid portrait of his vibrant neighborhood that draws heavily from a deep well of childhood memories. “As a child, the rhythmic rocking of the subway was music to my ears. Every Sunday I took a magical ride along those tracks from Brooklyn to Harlem, which became my island of refuge,” he says. Like his ancestors who emigrated there during the Harlem Renaissance, Harris saw Harlem as a place of opportunity, belonging, and most importantly, love. “The people that enveloped me with their love and teaching placed an armor of music, literature and history around my underdeveloped mind.” Kate’s Soulfood is the outcome of their heartfelt efforts.
Among those that had an impact on the young Harris was his Aunt Kate, and her popular luncheonette Kate’s Home Cooking. Located on the corner of Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 126th street, right behind the Apollo Theater, the diner was often frequented by musicians (and notably appears on the cover of Jimmy Smith’s Home Cookin’). Harris would spend his Sunday afternoons at his aunt’s restaurant, soaking in the sounds and sights, before catching a show at the Apollo. “I experienced many pivotal moments at my aunts’ restaurant. I witnessed parts of the civil rights movement, rubbed shoulders with exceptional people, and it was there that I really found my voice.” In composing the music featured on Kate’s Soulfood, Harris drew from these impactful experiences, and in doing so, has produced a wide-ranging sonic tapestry of his beloved neighborhood.
To bring his vision to life, Harris enlisted GRAMMY winning producer Kamau Kenyatta, known particularly for his work with Gregory Porter. Harris’ A-list backing band includes his working rhythm section made up of Arcoiris Sandoval on piano, Nimrod Speaks on bass and Shirazette Tinnin on drums. Also featured is Grégoire Maret on harmonica, David Castañeda on percussion, Curtis Taylor on trumpet, Alex Budman on alto saxophone, Keith Fiddmont on tenor saxophone and Ondre J Pivec on organ. Harris plays guitar throughout the album, with the exception of on “Color Of A Woman is Blu”, which features Tonga Ross-M’au in his place.
The contagious, vivacious energy of Harlem is personified on the opening track and album highlight “I Grew Up”, on which striking horn arrangements by Etienne Charles shine brightly. Against a backdrop of children playing and singing, Harris paints a vivid picture of an afternoon in Harlem, and proudly declares “Harlem is the place, Harlem is the place where I live,” perfectly setting the stage for the proceedings.
Harris shifts gears on “One More Notch (Put Down Your Gun)”, on which he steps into the role of a former gang-member who pleads with his junior to get off the street, and follows it up with “Wash Away My Sins”, a mid-tempoed declaration of appreciation for the strong women who love and support Black men in today’s broken society. Harris shines on neo-soul infused tracks “Open Up” and “Shallow Man” before barring his romantic soul on “The Color of a Woman is Blu”. The back-half of Kate’s Soulfood, “99 Miles”, “Autumn Has Found You”, and “New Day”, were written for Harris’ friends and family that showered him with love throughout his life.
Closing out Kate’s Soulfood is “Run Through America”, which was released as a single in August. Written in response to the unjust police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, “Run Through America” is a modern-day protest song that ends the album with a call to action: to take to the streets and call out their name. The emotional music video was premiered by JazzTimes. It is a fitting end to an album about Harlem, a place where the civil rights movement boomed in the 1960’s - something Harris saw up close from his counter seat at Kate’s Home Cooking.
Kate’s Soulfood is a tour-de-force for Allan Harris, who has been called the “Jazz Vocal King of New York”. Described by the Miami Herald as possessing a voice with “the warmth of Tony Bennett, the bite and rhythmic sense of Sinatra, and the sly elegance of Nat ‘King' Cole,” Harris has garnered wide acclaim from critics and legions of fans from all over the world. Recently, Harris made national headlines with his riveting work Cross That River, which tells the unsung story of America’s black cowboys and sheds light on their oft-overlooked contribution in taming the American West. Cross That River was featured in the New York Times, on NPR’s Weekend Edition, and on CBS and NBC.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris has remained in the public eye due to his weekly live stream concert series “Harlem After Dark”. These virtual performances, which stream on Youtube and Facebook Live and garnered attention from Forbes, regularly attract thousands of fans and have become a staple in many music lovers’ homes every Tuesday evening. Harris has often featured tunes from Kate’s Soulfood during these performances, and the music has been met with great enthusiasm.
By revering their forebears on record, Bruce Harris, James Brandon Lewis, Dara Tucker, The Baylor Project, Allan Harris, Samara Joy, Charnett Moffett and the late Ralph Peterson, Jr. show that Black music is a self-sustaining universe. Read this article here.
"With hard proof that jazz is still loved, still fought for, still wanted and need, Birdland re-opened its doors this month. One of the first people to perform, was none other than, Allan Harris, who New York Times said was the best thing to see that weekend." Read the full review here.
ALL THAT'S JAZZ
"The Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based vocalist/guitarist/bandleader/composer Allan Harris is one the most accomplished and exceptional singers of his generation. A self-described “storyteller through the genre of jazz” he brings it all together with his new album, ‘Kate’s Soulfood’, a beautiful collection of songs crafted with love and a depth of life experience." Listen to this podcast here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"His beautiful, baritone vocals are as smooth as melted brown butter. His poignant memories pour from my CD player and tell me stories of his life. This is ‘soul jazz’ at its best." Read this review here.
SOUL & JAZZ & FUNK
"Kate’s Soulfood’ is a collection of beautiful songs beautifully presented; each song has been crafted with love and a depth of life experience, and each one offers food for thought – some more provocative than others but, consistently, here, there are messages-a-plenty!" Read this review here.
" In 10 tracks of original music, Harris’ songs deliver an evocative portrait of personal experience, rhythmically rich and beautifully rendered in his sure baritone." Review here.
"Kate’s Soulfood is a delicious taste of Harlem revisited, spiked soul sprinkled with a message to the people, Harris’ ballads dipped in his original smoky honey croon sauce and a searing anthem to keep the truth in sight." Read the full article here.
"That sound radiates up from a Harlem long gone all retro on the one hand with its lovely organic sound, no synths or finicky post-production to over-fancy it but still swimming in the folk memory to bubble into a resurgent spirit that ebbs and flows through jazz fashions. Allan's original songs actually say something and are the foundation of it all." Read the review here.
"Produced by Kamau Kenyatta, and with each song imbued with personal meaning, the world-class credentials of Harris' band are evident from the get-go, with every horn flourish, drum fill and solo serving the song in the most empathetic way possible." Review here.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"Begun before and completed during the coronavirus crisis, Allan Harris’ Kate’s Soulfood (Love Productions) celebrates the post-Renaissance Harlem of the guitarist/singer’s youth. These 10 tracks reverberate with gospel-infused inspiration." Review here.
'Harris sings and plays guitar with ardor and urgency and his sidemen meet the moment to amplify his message, as Harris calls for “A revolution for restitution.”' Read the full Jazz Album of the Week article here.
D. OSCAR GROOMES
"Kate's Soulfood is a winning, reflective, and mobilizing set." Read the full review in the Summer 2021 O's Place Newsletter.
"Kate's Soulfood—which dropped last January—Harris paints a picture of that specific time and place, which fostered a veritable cornucopia of Black culture." Read the full Grammys.com article here.
WOMAN AROUND TOWN
"Kate’s Soulfood, a tribute to boyhood in Harlem, the artist packs every inch of this venue’s stage with musicians/sound. Results saturate the 70s Motown vibe his original compositions evoke." Read the full review here.
THE BAY STATE BANNER
"His soothing voice, his ability to tell stories through music, and his appreciation of Black history in his narratives have special resonance as we emerge a little bit from this stressful period." Read the full feature interview here.