If but a single word must describe guitarist/composer Joel Harrison it's restless; one look at his discography, from his "breakthrough" Free Country (ACT, 2003) to the 19-piece big band of Infinite Possibility (Sunnyside, 2013) and it's clear that this Guggenheim Fellowship Award winner isn't content in any one place for long. Leave the Door Open may be his first album of 2014and yet another departure, this time exploring an improv-heavy kind of world music sourced from the East and West in collaboration with Indian sarodemaster Anupam Shobhakarbut there's another album on the horizon that focuses on Harrison the guitarist (Mother Stump, coming on Cuneiform in May), and yet another already in the can, equally different, and looking for a label.
Harrison's work is always collaborative, but other than covering classic songs from the past, more often than not the guitarist is the sole composer. Leave the Door Open is, then, another anomaly in a career filled with them: a recording that splits compositional duties with Shobhakar in a group called Multiplicity, in addition to bringing in some unique interpretations of an old blues standard, one rearranged piece each from the American and Indian traditions, and a collaborative composition from the two leaders. It's a heady brew that doesn't so much find a meeting point where East and West meet as it does blow the door open between the two, allowing the music to seamlessly ebb and flow from and towards both sides, creating something that's the sum total of both but equally reverent to their individual touchstones.
As ever, Harrison's choice of band mates is astute: the ever versatile keyboardist Gary Versace
brings harmonic abstraction and rich color, few able to touch his ability to get past the Hammond organ's soul-drenched jazz tradition and employ it in a more purely textural fashion adaptable to any context; bassist Hans Glawischnig
may be the most intrinsically suited, having studied Indian music extensively, migrating a traditional tabla solo to drum kit on Tintal Drum set Solo (Chhandayan, 2005). Guests include saxophonist David Binney
, who elevates Harrison's opening epic "The Translator" with a solo that picks up where Versace's combination of virtuosity and thematic construction leaves off, shooting it into the stratosphere as the pianist, Glawischnig and Weiss provide the extra boost.
But Multiplicity really belongs to Harrison and Shobhakar, whether exploring the meshing of Shobhakar's microtonally capable sarode with electric guitar (Harrison's dark-hued title track); turning to Eastern linearity (Shobhakar's "Mudhuvanti"), the composer's solo building to a whirling dervish of a climax only to later engage in an incendiary, set-defining duet with Weiss; or re-harmonizing bluesman Willie Dixon
's classic "Spoonful" into a lyrical ballad where Shobhakar's viscerally bent notes blend seamlessly with Harrison's National steel guitar slide.
With Harrison and Shobhakar's stylistic confluence, intuitive interpretive skills and compelling compositional abilities, Leave the Door Open is a Harrison project that, hopefully, won't be a one-time affair.
Track Listing: The Translator; Leave the Door Open; Madhuvanti; Multiplicity; Spoonful; Kemne Avul; Turning World; Devil Mountain Blues; Deep River.
Personnel: Joel Harrison: electric, National steel, acoustic and baritone guitars; Anupam Shobhakar: sarode; Gary Versace: piano, Hammond B-3organ, accordion; Hans Glawischnig: acoustic and electric bass; Dan Weiss: drums, tabla; David Binney: alto saxophone (1, 3); Todd Isler: percussion (6, 8); Bonnie Chakraborty: voice (6); Chandrashekar Vase: voice (4).