Matt Turner and John Harmon: Outside In

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The apt title of Outside In offers two tidbits of information about the music contained within. First, cellist Turner and pianist Harmon approach "in" standards by Miles Davis and others with beautiful, fluid melodic interpretations. Second, they also proffer a measured amount of "outside" playing throughout—just enough to balance their travels between the lines. For example, their cover of Ornette Coleman's "Roundtrip" takes pronounced liberties with the original—which add color and mystery to the piece.

While this disc is jointly credited to Turner and Harmon, the cellist's voice is often so dominant that Harmon ends up playing second fiddle, so to speak. (That's not a bad thing at all; in fact, it seems like a suitable arrangement given the musical personalities involved.) When tension builds, it's often because Turner takes a bold step into new territory on the cello.

During a few scattered moments, the pianist leads. At times like this, Turner recedes a bit, providing bass support or harmonic glue. The finest track on Outside In is "Mourning," an original tune by the duo. It starts with a threadlike Eastern melody on cello with accompanying piano ripples, then Turner breaks down into scratching ostinato with rich overtones, and eventually after some low-end conversation the duo settle into a fresh groove for some modal jamming. Turner riffs on "Mourning," but he never falls into stasis: in fact, his constantly-changing accompaniment offers plenty of fuel for the pianist's explorations. More than a few moments here recall the gentle insistence of Keith Jarrett's trio. Eventually the tune quietly settles back down into quiet drones and minor harmony.

It's the rich diversity of tone, arrangement, and interaction that makes Outside In such a successful recording. One has the feeling that the players went into this session with a determined emphasis on melody. At all times, even during occasional moments when the duo surfs interstellar space, a dramatic emphasis on melody pervades this record. The other very satisfying feature of Outside In is the high-level improvisational interaction it offers. The two players constantly engage in conversation—from the relatively fixed boundaries of standards, all the way to no-holds-barred joisting in the realm of pure experimentation. One player offers a gesture, and the other player responds with an off-kilter comment. Since it's impossible to predict where the music is headed, these conversations along the way acquire special meaning.

Outside In is a remarkable disc, rich with color and fantasy. It offers a little taste of everything, and both Turner and Harmon play with freshness and an open ear. For such a pared-down group, they lay out a nearly orchestral sound palette (especially when Harmon plays keyboards, though his work at the piano tends to be much crisper and punchier). Very highly recommended. Seek this one out: it will reward repeated listening.

Visit Stellar Sound on the web.

Track Listing: I Fall In Love Too Easily; Solar; Rabid Poultry; Mourning; Roundtrip; Darn That Dream; I Want Jesus To Walk With Me; Beautiful Love; Forbidden Forest; Ground Zero (for Randy Sabien); Blue in Green.

Personnel: Matt Turner: cello; John Harmon: piano, keyboards.

Title: Outside In | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Stellar Sound


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