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.