Mystery Man? Clarinetist Darryl Harper unveils his action figure/alter-ego with latest release…
Amongst the usual blizzard of new releases, one of the more uncommon recent entries is Stories in Real Time (HiPNOTIC Records) from clarinetist-educator Darryl Harper. First sighting of Darryl Harper, who teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, came courtesy of a Regina Carter tour a couple of seasons back when the violinist sought to broaden her sonic pallet by adding clarinet. But Stories in Real Time is a bit far afield from that experience, particularly as regards the instrumentation: 4 clarinets (including bass clarinet), voice and standard piano-bass-drums rhythm section.
The cover and CD booklet graphics give no clue to the uninitiated as to Darryl Harper’s identity, save for a black action toy figure strolling purposefully across an urban landscape. Often curious about artist’s intent, wondering aloud about Harper’s coy graphics (a tad unusual for early discographical entries), drew the following details from the clarinetist:
The central theme of the album is storytelling. When thinking of images that would conjure up the sense of storytelling, my graphic designer (Ziddi Msangi) and I were drawn to the use of toys. We considered how children use toys to create stories, and how provocative those objects can be when juxtaposed against a real-world environment.
Stories in Real Time
In framing the socio-political agenda of this record, Ziddi and I deliberately chose a black action figure to compliment the album’s storytelling theme. In addition, I make significant reference within to the Uptown String Quartet, the World Saxophone Quartet, the Clarinet Summit albums, and the music of James Brown [in David Adler’s liner notes]. I use a composition of Horace Clarence Boyer, and I describe a seminal collaboration with Ethiopian-American filmmaker Salem Mekuria. This project is firmly rooted in the soil of African American tradition, and I hope I have made that perfectly clear.
If you ever get to see any of the live shows, you’ll probably hear an as-yet-unrecorded setting I commissioned from Xavier Davis of a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa called "Blue Light Lounge Sutra." And when I go into schools, I do a lecture-demonstration using Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem "The Anniad." I also often give racially charged titles to my presentations: "Sweet and Chocolate" (from the Brooks poem), "Awash in the Third Stream," or "Looking Forward, Looking Black."
I do often seek a measure of subtlety in the work (personally, I think an oblique reference is much more powerful than a direct one), but there should be no doubt about who I am or where I am coming from.