You have every right to be suspicious of anything that claims to interpret the music of a Beatle. Like symphonic Stones, extra-genre covers of the Beatles are most often a mixture of reverence and awkwardness. I've choked down enough Breakfasts with the Beatles to last a lifetime. But on Harrison on Harrison
, guitarist Joel Harrison (no relation) wisely doesn't limit his song choices only to George Harrison's Beatle years.
Half the songs come from George's solo efforts and emphasize his gentle melodies and rich source material, including British folk, skiffle, Indian ragas, and other worldly influences. And since it takes some nerve to tackle classic rock icons like "Here Comes the Sun and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps, it doesn't hurt that Harrison has some powerhouse friends in action, including altoist David Binney, pianist Uri Caine, and saxophonist Dave Liebman.
"Sun is tense and aggressive, with only the barest similarity to the original as Liebman sharply bleats the lyrics on soprano. "Weeps is given a slowed-down, rolling beat and Liebman's rough-and-tumble tenor wrestles the track away from Harrison's guitar. Liebman elevates the quality of anything he plays on, and his arrangement of "Within You Without You (from Sgt. Pepper's) begins with a wood flute prelude, substitutes Stephan Crump's bass for tabla, and inserts guitar in place of sitar.
The farther these arrangements part from their familiar melodies, the more they gain in interest, and "Love You To pulses with Pat Metheny Group-style bass and shimmering cymbals. Guest vocalist Jen Chapin delivers a moving version of "All Things Must Pass that Binney uses as a launching pad for a solo that mounts in exhilarating intensity. Usually Joel Harrison distinguishes himself as a talented arranger and judicious soloist. For instance, his playing on "Beware of Darkness is his purest lead guitar on the recording, leaving the beauty of the original melody starkly in the foreground. But while Joel Harrison's National Steel resonates, even Robert Johnson himself with a slide couldn't overcome "My Sweet Lord.
Personnel: Joel Harrison: electric, National Steel and fretless guitars, voice; David Liebman: soprano
and tenor saxophones, wood flute; David Binney: alto saxophone; Uri Caine: piano, Fender
Rhodes; Stephan Crump: bass; Dan Weiss: drums; Todd Isler: percussion; Gary Versace:
piano (9); Rob Burger: B3 organ (11); Jen Chapin: voice (6).