Given his proclivity for wildly eclectic, big-concept musical projects featuring improbable combinations of multi-ethnic instrumentalists, Joel Harrison
is about the last guitarist I'd expect to record a funky slab of power-trio jazz-rock-funk fusion. Across the board, his guitaristic skills have taken a back seat to compositional concerns and rich, detailed arrangements. Yet, here is Mother Stump
, Harrison's paean to 70s-era jazz-rooted, rock-powered, funked-up guitar-centric instrumental music. Moreover, Harrison has pointedly eschewed all of the studio polish and post-production nonsense that bogs down must fusion albums these days. Like the best music in any genre, Mother Stump
derives its potency from its unvarnished enthusiasm, and its completely visceral approach. The focus here is squarely on Harrison's remarkable, individualistic guitar playing. Dude can write well, also. Far from the usual blather one finds in liner notes these days, Harrison recounts the inspirations behind this music: most coming from his experiences in the Washington D.C area as an avid young music fan, player and student during the late 60s into the early 80s. He name checks some of the area's best jazz, soul and rock musicians, people he admired as a teenager and somelike Terry Plumeri
, Roy Buchanan
, and especially Danny Gattonwhose names have been forgotten due to changing fashions and the harsh realities of the music business.
Harrison also name-checks Nels Cline
and Bill Frisell
in his liners, and if those guitarists exemplify the general spirit of what Mother Stump
is all about, then: Mission Accomplished. I'd also add Terje Rypdal
to the list. As a soloist, Harrison is gloriously transgressive, and his use of all manner of effects is quite inspired. His overall sound, particularly on "John The Revelator" owes a little to Frisell's gonzo period, when he was making albums like Power Tools
(Antilles Records, 1987) and Lookout For Hope (ECM Records, 1987) and gigging with John Zorn
's Naked City. The rest of Mother Stump
, however, proves Harrison to be very much his own man. Even the tunes Harrison's chosen for this albumas disparate as they areseem have a deep personal significance, and the band's interpretations are heartfelt and brim with warmth. A couple of them, such as Buddy Miller
's "Wide River To Cross" are rooted in folk music, yet Harrison's interpretations are anything but mawkish and countrified. On the other hand, "Stratusphunk" is a freewheeling avant-jazz coup de chapeau to the undersung composer / arranger George Russell
. Harrison's originals, though primarily vehicles for extended soloing, are quick-witted and substantial. "Refuge," with Glenn Patscha
's mellow Rhodes leading the way, is an ECM-like ballad with an icily resigned air, while "Do You Remember Big Mama Thornton" melds a Zappa-esque turnaround with a bass line nipped from Al Greene's "Can't Get Next To You."
Bassist Michael Bates
and drummer Jeremy Clemons
are not just along for the ride; they challenge and prod Harrison at every turn. Bates, already well-known to jazz fans as a composer, leader and recording artist in his own right, has a warm, woody acoustic bass tone that gives the music an earthy, down-home flavor; most evident on "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" and "Dance With My Father Again." Clemons, a young drummer from St. Louis, is a real find. An exciting player, Clemons can play free and funky with equal ease and has worked with the Ark Superfunk Collective, Corey Wilkes
, and Stacy Dillard
. He's utterly fearless when it comes to thunderous fills and unexpected rhythmic modulations. Somehow, he inserts off- kilter drum'n'bass rhythms into the spacy freejazz of Paul Motian
's "Folk Song For Rosie," and it works. Yet, he knows when to lay back and let the music breathe, as on the band's stark interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." Glenn Patscha, best known as a co-founder of the folk-rock band Ollabelle, adds tasty, authentic period keyboards to about half of the tracks.
A brilliant and soulful hour's worth of music, Joel Harrison's Mother Stump
is a welcome antidote to mass- produced, slick guitar-based fusion.