Critic's Choice

In January 1993, when Houston native Everette Harp was playing the Clinton Inaugural as part of David Pack's All-Star Band, he found himself sharing the stage with the celebrity guest of the moment, and a part-time sax player: President Bill Clinton. Harp, whose own sax playing is definitely more than part-time, handed the newly sworn in chief executive his saxophone while the attending paparazzi snapped away. "I didn't realize anyone was watching," he says now. "I thought it was more or less for photographers of newspapers and magazines. After we finished, however, we went and took a break, and I called my wife. I told her that she wouldn't believe what had happened, and she told me that all of America had already seen my moment."

Not a bad bit of exposure. Of course, it would have been better had not the initial pictures wired across the globe identified Harp as legendary performer Joe Henderson. Still, in the wake of the presidential sax loan Harp got a regular Thursday night slot on The Arsenio Hall Show, where he could show off not only his trademark ponytail and gym-shaped musculature, but also his way with a saxophone, a way that turns out nothing but sweet, suave melodies, harmonies and beautiful tones. Harp consistently plays beautiful sounds through the bell of his antique, but in perfect condition, balanced-action alto saxophone. With vibrating tones, enhanced with strong, luscious, mellow attacks on each and every note, Harp seems to be expressing his thoughts and emotions through his dynamic horn. And these days, whether seen with a president or alone, he's unlikely to be mistaken for anyone else.

Harp moved from Houston to Los Angeles in 1988, and received his first big break when he hooked up with Teena Marie. Unfortunately, the singer had an accident soon after, putting her and Harp's plans on hold. But two weeks later another opportunity fell into his lap when he was asked to go on tour with Anita Baker as her sax man. What people who heard him on that tour discovered was a saxophonist who makes his sound stand out in the crowd. "The difference in my sound is due to a lot of different reasons," Harp says. "However, something that stands out is definitely my approach of playing with a lot of feeling and emotion. Also trying to play very lyrically -- as if I were actually a singer instead of a horn player. I approach it like it is the lead vocal in some aspects of my playing."

Harp moved from Baker to tours with Sheena Easton and Kenny Loggins before hooking up with Baker again in 1990. Two years later he came out with his eponymous debut CD while touring with, among others, George Duke. Everette Harp began to bring Harp out from the backup band into the spotlight, a move that was pretty much completed with his impromptu presidential gig and then his time with Arsenio Hall. Last year, he released Common Ground, his second solo CD, which just continued spreading the word of Harp's impressive sax mastery.

Common Ground contains a number of songs with distinctly different textures. The first single off the CD, "Jeri's Song," was a soulful ballad written by Harp for his wife, and featuring Jeffrey Osborne on vocals. Other featured songs include the classic "You Make Me Feel Brand New" and "Feels So Right," a track recorded with percussionist Sheila E. The CD even shows off Harp as a vocalist, and though he's not exactly going to make Luther Vandross shake in his boots, he's not bad. The Houston minister's son, and graduate of North Texas State, has come a long way. It'd be nice if folks showed up to welcome him back home. -- G.S. Saunders

Everette Harp plays at 8 and 10 p.m. Thursday, July 6 at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $17.50 and $25. For info, call 869-TICS.

Nitzer Ebb -- Old rock bands never die, they just rehab, recant and go back, Jack, and do it again on the arena circuit. Old dance bands don't seem to have the same sort of luck. They usually just fade off the charts and retire to lives of semi-obscurity as producers and record store clerks, because, after all, the only thing more unattractive than an old man trying to rock a guitar is an old man trying to rock a synthesizer. Nitzer Ebb, the Essex, England, duo comprising Douglas McCarthy and Bon Harris, announced themselves with 1984's single "Isn't It Funny How Your Body Works," and four albums later they'd like you to believe that they've been reborn, not as the original purveyors of pre-programmed industrial angst, but as a real, live, passionate band, with a drummer and everything. The evidence is the latest release, Big Hit, and if it's not likely to launch the band onto any arena tours, it's at least gotten them a gig at Kaboom, which, one supposes, is more fun than a day behind the cash register. At Kaboom, 6130 Richmond Avenue, Thursday, July 6. 784-2395. (Brad Tyer)

Rockefeller's in the Round -- You knew it had to happen sooner or later, and the day of reckoning is upon us. If you ever wondered what happened to the individual components of the now-defunct Trish and Darin, you can answer at least half the question tonight, when Trish Murphy sits in a circle with fellow songstresses Lisa Morales and Allison Fisher, trading tunes and tales in an intimate evening of in-the-round song craft. At Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, Friday, July 7. 869-

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G.S. Saunders
Brad Tyer