Without a doubt, there are more than a few musicians named Mark Harris scattered around the United States, and in many cases, it is probably easy to distinguish one from another -- say, a hypothetical easy listening xylophonist from Portland, ME, is likely not the same Mark Harris as a hypothetical death metal bassist from San Diego, CA. Among the real Mark Harrises accomplished enough to have appeared on recordings once in a while, one might be excused a bit of confusion regarding the identity of the Denver, CO-based reed player who goes by that name, even if this Mark Harris lives and works in the Rocky Mountain State and is mainly a saxophonist and clarinetist. Regardless of his geographic and instrumental focus, the conclusion could easily be reached that he is more than one person given the types of music he has played and who he has played with. In 1988, Harris joined Thinking Plague, a Rock in Opposition-inspired band led by guitarist Mike Johnson, another musician whose rather commonplace name has likely led to identity confusion in album credits on occasion. It might also be noted that bandleader Johnson has been less than enamored of the Rock in Opposition appellation when used to describe artists who have been performing and recording in the many years since the European RIO heyday of the late '70s -- although Thinking Plague have been clearly inspired by the Art Bears and have collaborated with Fred Frith, and their 1989 album, In This Life, was the first album by a United States band to be released by Brit drummer Chris Cutler's RIO-centric Recommended Records label. In one of his first recorded appearances to be circulated fairly widely, Harris played woodwinds on In This Life, a challenging, volatile, and complex album considered by some to be a masterpiece. While Harris would remain a member of Thinking Plague throughout the group's rather convoluted on-and-off existence over the next two decades, playing baritone saxophone, clarinet, and flute, the reedman could not be pigeonholed as a post-RIO musician, as his subsequent recording credits prove. In the early '90s Harris played reeds, keyboards, and assorted percussion with Monkey Siren, a worldbeat-informed large ensemble popular on the Denver club scene, and a couple of discs by this outfit can also be counted among his first recording credits. Harris stuck with Monkey Siren through a good portion of the '90s as the group shed members and gradually permuted into a more pop-oriented band, changing its name to Action Sound Superband in 1997, reduced in size to a quartet with Harris still aboard. Notably in this same general timeframe, Harris was recruited to join Thinking Plague bassist Dave Willey's Hamster Theatre, a band that might also be considered of the post-RIO school, established to realize Willey's complex but engaging Euro-folkish vision, gestated during a European sojourn in which the multi-instrumentalist encountered music by the likes of Lars Hollmer and Nimal firsthand. Hamster Theatre -- who also include guitarist Johnson, by the way -- were initially formed to enable performances of Willey's music (as heard on his mid-'90s solo album Songs from the Hamster Theatre) in a live setting, and Harris' presence in the Hamsters and Action Sound Superband even provided the reedman with an opportunity to pull double duty on a single evening, as the two groups could be found sharing the bill at a 1997 live date at Denver's Mercury Café. At this point, it still might be easy to characterize Mark Harris as an avant rock reed player of post-RIO inclinations, perhaps even covering a full spectrum of music often associated with the RIO "style," from the often tuneful Hamsters to the somewhat more "difficult" Plague. Yet during the '90s, Harris also fell into the orbit of tenor saxophonist and composer Fred Hess, an AACM-inspired artist who founded the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble and Denver's Creative Music Works Orchestra. Harris can be heard on several Hess albums of the '90s and 2000s, and also guests on bass clarinet on Woman's Day, a 1997 Gramavision release by trumpeter Ron Miles, certainly one of Denver's most widely recognized and acclaimed creative jazz musicians. In fact, it turns out that Harris has been a first-call saxophonist for show bands supporting performers ranging from the Temptations to Natalie Cole to Diane Schuur to Bob Hope. And on the classical side, he has appeared in recital as a solo artist, with the the Lamont Saxophone Quartet, and the Colorado Symphony. He is even a member of the children's music group Lois LaFond & the Rockadiles, a kid-friendly outfit fairly distant aesthetically from the likes of Thinking Plague (as one could easily conclude from perusal of these respective bands' web photos). Harris is a studio teacher at Metro State College of Denver, and as expected, his curriculum encompasses a full range of woodwind pedagogy -- a reflection of his skills in nearly every imaginable genre one might associate with reed instruments. And one might also conclude that the ability of Mark Harris to find creative outlets in so many different styles and genres reflects quite favorably on the diversity and vitality of the overall music scene in the Mile-High City, a place that could apparently compete quite well on an artistic level with anyplace else, if this musician's presence there is any indication. ~ Dave LynchPortions of Content Provided by Rovi Corporation.
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