Joel Harrison 7: Search (2012)

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Joel Harrison 7: Search
For over a decade, Joel Harrison has been steadily expanding his palette as a composer, although his penchant for unorthodox instrumental combinations and multicultural folk forms encompass only one facet of his inclusive aesthetic. Harrison's most recent efforts have borrowed heavily from Western neo-classical tenets; The Wheel (Innova, 2008) included an expansive five movement suite for jazz quintet and string quartet, while The Music of Paul Motian (Sunnyside, 2011) featured stately arrangements performed by two electric guitarists and a traditional string quartet.

Search contains some of Harrison's most seamlessly integrated writing for disparate forces to date. Supported by an archetypal jazz rhythm section, comprised of pianist Gary Versace
Gary Versace
Gary Versace

organ, Hammond B3
, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Clarence Penn
Clarence Penn
Clarence Penn
b.1968
drums
, Harrison is joined by tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin
Donny McCaslin
Donny McCaslin
b.1966
saxophone
and two string players: violinist Christian Howes
Christian Howes
Christian Howes
b.1972
violin
and cellist Dana Leong
Dana Leong
Dana Leong
b.1980
cello
, who have both collaborated with the guitarist in similar contexts before.

The septet's broad instrumental palette lends the album a wide dynamic range that keenly exploits Harrison's versatile gifts as a composer; he solos infrequently however, allowing his sidemen ample opportunity to express themselves. Harrison's harmonious contrapuntal themes underscore the bulk of the record, as typified on the panoramic opener, "Grass Valley and Beyond," where Versace's prismatic cadences and McCaslin's intervallic salvos paint a vibrant aural canvas; the saxophonist's dramatic altissimo crescendos and multiphonic flourishes punctuate the proceedings like rich impasto accents. Howes and McCaslin engage in spirited interplay with the cagey rhythm section on the capricious swinger "All the Previous Pages Are Gone," while "A Magnificent Death" and "The Beauty of Failure" exhibit a range of classicist tendencies; the former ascends from hypnotic minimalist motifs to a rapturous climax, the later weaves lyrical thematic variations into a romantic coda.

The session concludes with two unrelated, but unexpectedly complementary covers: a vivacious reading of Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band

band/orchestra
's "Whipping Post" and a sublime interpretation of Olivier Messiaen's "O Sacrum Convivum." The classic rock staple is given respectful treatment, but surprisingly, it's Leong's sinuous cello that drives the bluesy number, bolstered by Penn's pugilistic drumming. Conversely, Harrison's introspective fretwork accentuates the mystical ethereality of Messiaen's recast choral motet, setting the stage for the titular closer, a fugue-like postlude for solo piano that incisively encapsulates the date's multifaceted approach—reconfirming Harrison's sophisticated compositional acumen in the process.

Track Listing: Grass Valley and Beyond; A Magnificent Death; All the Previous Pages are Gone; The Beauty of Failure; Whipping Post; O Sacrum Convivium; Search.

Personnel: Joel Harrison: guitar; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Gary Versace: piano, Hammond B-3; Christian Howes: violin; Dana Leong: cello; Stephan Crump: bass; Clarence Penn: drums.

Record Label: Sunnyside Records

Style: Beyond Jazz


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