Friday, July 05, 2013

Joel Harrison - NYC Jazz Record

Joel Harrison
Infinite Possibility
Sunnyside Records

Guitarist Joel Harrison certainly put together a band 
of ringers for his 19-piece jazz orchestra. Flipping 
through his rolodex, he managed to enlist saxophonists 
like Donny McCaslin and Ben Wendel plus trombonists 
Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik and Curtis Fowlkes for a 
recording session last December. Although the 
instrumentation is horn heavy and not too far-flung, 
Harrison displays a great ability to combine sounds for 
a unique take. His guitar is a firm presence but it would 
be hard to pick out the leader on the album without it 
being pointed out. No one instrument stands out. 
Horns, piano, marimbas, guitars and percussion all 
work together. With six extended pieces, Harrison has 
created a cinematic sensation that is lushly compelling.

“Dockery Farms” is a haunting display for the 
trombonists. The band soars dramatically before 
Harrison enters with a screeching slide. He digs into 
the ferocious tune, the title a reference to the home of 
the Delta blues. But he doesn’t really take his guitar in 
an expected straight blues setting, instead shredding 
over the blasting brass with a progressive squeal.

“Remember” pits the band into full orchestral 
mode with a quivering presence, dotting the landscape 
with sporadic rich harmonies and vocalist Liala Biali 
reciting the word “remember” as another voice amid 
the clustered instrumentation.

Harrison rolls out the funk for “The Overwhelming 
Infinity of Possibility”. James Shipp’s marimba sets a 
hypnotic tone off which much of the orchestra builds. 
Higher woodwinds rhythmically pounce as the brass 
flutters to a slow rise. Harrison has an interesting way 
of manipulating his guitar to blend in with individual 
soloists. Ned Rothenberg’s alto gets a static-y hum 
from Harrison’s hovering axe, adding to the tension.

Album closer “Blue Lake Morning” starts as a full-
bodied ballad that slowly picks up steam. McCaslin 
takes a churning solo backed primarily by the rhythm 
section. He dips and weaves with a push from drummer 
Rob Garcia before the rest of the ensemble punctuates 
with dense colors, slowly fading on a dreamy wave of 
flutes and piano.

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