Aug 12 2013
Historically, guitarist Joel Harrison has excelled at crafting music into a warped beauty unlike that of any other. Perhaps most impressive is, despite his talent at differentiation, his music doesn’t venture too far out into the category of Something Different; in fact, it consistently sounds just a few modifications away from a straight-ahead modern jazz album. That contrast goes a long way to explaining why his music is so thoroughly fulfilling. It’s not unlike the effect one might have seeing a person hovering just a few inches off the ground… close enough to reach out and touch, but separated by a distance that might as well be miles, because, well, the person is actually flying.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Harrison continues this trend on his initial foray into the big band medium. Infinite Possibility doesn’t sound so far removed from a traditional big band recording that it’d get filed under avant-garde or experimental, but by the sheer act of hovering just a couple inches off the ground, the album transforms into something quite dramatic and new.
Your album personnel: Joel Harrison (electric guitar), JC Sanford (conductor), Michel Gentile (flute), Ned Rothenberg (sax, clarinet, flute), Ben Kono (sax, oboe, english horn, flute), Donny McCaslin (tenor sax), Ben Wendel (tenor sax), Rob Scheps (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Andy Laster (baritone sax), Seneca Black (trumpet), Taylor Haskins (trumpet), Dave Smith (trumpet), Justin Mullens (trumpet), Alan Ferber (trombone), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Ben Stapp (tuba), Joseph Daley (tuba, euphonium), Daniel Kelly (piano, keyboards), Kermit Driscoll (bass), James Shipp (vibes, marimba, hand percussion), Rob Garcia (drums), and guests: Everett Bradley (vocals) and Liala Biali (vocals).
One of the most rewarding moments of a large ensemble performance are those delicate moments of fragile beauty, expressed without ignoring the Big Sound so readily available to a larger unit. And when that ensemble develops the song’s intensity, building up to a boisterous euphoria a large ensemble is so capable of, and then letting it come back down gently… that’s an evocative turn of events that has the potential to leave listeners deliriously addicted to a particular piece.
This ensemble takes to flight throughout the recording, but it’s an odd sort of flight. Harrison, who has shown in the past with other projects an avid willingness to toy with complexities, continues to do so here, whether it be through shifting gears at unexpected intervals and incorporating folk song dialects into the album lexicon, but also in bringing instruments like oboe, marimba, and euphonium into the big band fold… not to mention his personal contributions on electric guitar, which don’t always adhere to conventional forms of engagement.
And that’s how this album opens… the gentle play of vibes and piano and a soulful vocal section by Everett Bradley, they all lead into a build up to a penultimate climax before floating gently back down to the enfolding embrace of its introduction.
The album goes through many changes, often with an alarming suddenness, but the ensemble’s motion has a fluid grace that presents abrupt change as a breathless continuum.
Once the bob-and-weave of “Dockery Farm” finds its range, Harrsion’s electric guitar presents itself as the primary threat, searing a pattern of heat across the song’s horizon… a horizon that includes a subdued piano solo and some playful moments with trombone and trumpet.
“Remember” builds slowly from a harmonic ground floor, slowly rising until the ensemble attains some serious altitude, matching it with a corresponding rise in volume… then falling slowly back down to its starting point.
Arguably, the album’s highlight is “The Overwhelming Infinity Of Possibility,” which sets down its roots with a pulsing meter that hints at compositions by the likes of John Adams and Steve Reich. Once it gets a little punchy, the ensemble just launches itself out of the gates. A shimmering electricity that sounds torn between a free form expression and getting its groove on, the ensemble displays a kinetic energy that derives a commanding expressiveness from its acrobatic motion as much as from the way notes crazily ricochet off one another. The song fades away in a swarm of fluttering horns, and in that peculiar Joel Harrison way, it just makes sense.
“Blue Lake Morning” hovers between euphoric exaltation and a folklore earthiness, wheras “Highway” begins with a calm resolve that develops into a surging exuberance. And in both instances, the ensemble returns to the peaceful state from whence they began… In the case of the former, slowly gliding back down to earth and gradually coming to a stop. And for the album closer, the song gently flutters back down, and lands with the lightest touch.
A gorgeous recording.
Released on the Sunnyside Records label.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.
And as a final note, for those of you unfamiliar with this handy tip in exploring more Jazz… one of the best methods for discovery (other than reading my totally awesome site) is by simply checking out the recordings put out by the album’s other personnel. Definitely check out more Joel Harrison recordings (of which I think I’ve got two others reviewed on this site), but also check out recordings by the other musicians listed above. Almost every name on that list has been involved in a quality project over the last 18 months… many of which have been reviewed either on this site and/or mentioned in one of my eMusic Jazz Picks columns.
Jacob Garchik recorded an album that made my Best of 2012 list. Ben Wendel was part of a duo album (with pianist Dan Tepfer) which will almost certainly make my Best of 2013 list. Michel Gentile, Daniel Kelly & Rob Garcia released an album in 2013 that received a warm reception on my site. Curtis Fowlkes, aside from performing on my favorite Bill Frisell album of all time (Quartet), not to mention one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen (in support of Quartet), also performed on Billy Martin’s Wicked Knee. Not sure I’ve reviewed anything by Taylor Haskins on this site, yet, but he’s pretty damn phenomenal, and I’m lining up a couple of his older albums for a Safety Net review series column. Alan Ferber just released a big band album of his own that got me spinning deliriously in my chair the first time I heard it a couple weeks back. And speaking of Frisell, Kermit Driscoll contributed to some of Frisell’s other great works, not to mention some solid work with his own name in large type. Okay, I’ll stop there.
Have fun searching! And don’t get overwhelmed by it all. You can do anything wrong, and there’s nothing but great music out there waiting for you.