Joel Harrison 5 – Spirit House

spirit house(Whirlwind Recordings)

Guitarist Joel Harrison‘s back catalogue is chock-a-block with adventures, both in repertoire and in band configuration. So, we’ve had albums inspired by ethnic folk song, country music, and interpretations of the work of that other Harrison guitarist, George; and Joel has written for big band, for string quartet, and played with classical sarodist Anupam Shobhakar along the way.

This disc brings together some familiar names, not only from jazz in general but also from Joel’s previous bands: trumpeter Cuong Vu, bassoonist Paul Hanson, bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Brian Blade. That brass/wind combo means Harrison can use his more horn-like tonal effects to form a three-part front line and tunes like Old Friends and Left Hook are rich with harmony lines.

And then there are the wide timbral ranges that players like Cuong Vu and Hanson can achieve, the former with squeezed, spitting notes, the latter with the subtlest of reverb. Harrison himself, of course, is a guitarist of many disguises, one minute searing bluesman, the next lyrical country picker.

I’m not quite sure if the fact that track four’s melody leaps out at us in all its beauty is a reflection on Harrison’s lesser gifts as a songwriter – track four is the only non-original – or just an acknowledgement of the supreme timelessness of Paul Motian’s Johnny Broken Wing. Whatever, it’s a lovely interpretation, Blade as ever the lyrical equal of any chord player or melody instrumentalist.

Some Thoughts On Kenny Kirkland not only boasts fulsome instrumental colours but a fine, restrained vocal from guest Everett Bradley. The title track is a gorgeous and gracious piece, the tune passing from instrument to instrument and then soaring in harmony. The closer, Look At Where You Are, might have a slightly laboured lyric but it gives Harrison and Blade not only a chance to play together but to sing in harmony too; it also features a sublime bit of electronically manipulated Cuong Vu sounding a little like a pedal steel.

Among that vast and eclectic back catalogue Spirit House already sounds like it will have a prominent place as one of Harrison’s most cohesive packages so far.

Categories: CD review

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