TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of a new album by jazz clarinetist Darryl Harper, who comes from Philadelphia, has toured and recorded with violinist Regina Carter, and chairs the music department at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Kevin says Harper's music is imbued with the blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "SPINDLESHANKS")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: "Spindleshanks," a little out-of-sync boogie-woogie for Darryl Harper's clarinet and Kevin Harris' piano. It's from Harper's "The Edenfred Files." In jazz, the clarinet went into eclipse for awhile, drowned out by louder trumpets and saxes.

The instrument has long since made a comeback, and the modern clarinet thrives in settings where it doesn't have to shout to be heard. In his spare trio Darryl Harper uses on most of his new album, he can sing softly as an owl in the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITEHEAD: Darryl Harper and his simpatico colleagues from the long-running Onus Trio. They cherish that great renewable resource, the blues, rooted in 19th-century field hollers: music of the cleared woodlands. Harper's woody clarinet timbre makes the connection.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITEHEAD: The trio also play Julius Hemphill's "Kansas City Line," a modernized blues that's 10 bars long instead of the usual 12. It seems to end in midair. When they play the melody twice, the beginning of the second time through sounds like the real ending. The musicians add to the playful ambiguities by messing with the tempo here and there.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ MUSIC, "KANSAS CITY LINE")

WHITEHEAD: Darryl Harper likes his blues with a twist, some way of tweaking its form or rhythm or feel. The blues isn't all he plays, but on his "Edenfred Files," it's rarely far away. On bassist Matthew Parrish's "Sirens Calling," a spiky melody and rhythm have the easy flow of an intricate folk dance. Drummer Butch Reed makes it roll.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "SIRENS CALLING")

WHITEHEAD: The album "The Edenfred Files" is modest in a good way: a short program for two small combinations, ending with a solo piano Coltrane ballad that's somehow a fitting close to a clarinet recital. It's a musical chapbook, or novella. The scale suits Darryl Harper's pointedly focused music. Sometimes, a small helping hits the spot better than a jumbo platter.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure, DownBeat and eMusic, and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "The Edenfred Files" by clarinetist Darryl Harper. You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org, and you can follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.

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