Alison Bentley previews a three-date UK tour by Joel Harrison which starts at Pizza Express Dean Street on Tue 13th Oct.
New York-based guitarist Joel Harrison is a versatile and virtuosic guitarist. His new album Spirit House (Whirlwind Recordings) draws together many of the styles that he’s embraced in previous projects:
- Jazz. He’s recorded a CD of Paul Motian compositions
- Blues. He’s covered classics like Spoonful, John the Revelator
- Americana. He recorded the Tennessee Waltz with Norah Jones
- Modern classical music. He teaches his jazz students to incorporate music by Messiaen and Bartok.
So a slice of New York eclecticism will be London, Oxford and Bristol this week, as he brings his current touring band (saxophonist Ben Wendel, bassist Michael Bates, and drummer Jeremy Clemons) to the UK.
He’s recorded more than 20 CDs so far. His 2014 album was called Leave the Door Open, (fusing Jazz and Indian music) which describes perfectly his openness to different styles of music. He’s recorded with the likes of Brian Blade, David Binney, Ralph Alessi, Uri Caine…
His guitar can sound as delicate as Bill Frisell or as rocky as Jeff Beck; it can have a Scofield-esque blues edge, or use beautiful dreamy electronica; it can be as intense and Eastern as John McLaughlin. The new CD features Harrison’s compositions (plus one by Paul Motian, the sweetly melodic Johnny Broken Wing.) His aim is to keep ‘the composing fairly simple, wanting to lean on the intuitive skills of the players…’ He uses varied textures, notably bassoon, at times to create lumbering grooves (An Elephant in Igor's Yard); or the long-lined harmonies of You Must Go Through a Winter, or the darker modal harmonies of the funky Christian Scott-like Left Hook.
Spirit House is Harrison’s metaphor for bringing together improvising musicians, an East Asian ‘miniature structure used as a shelter for the deities, a home for invisible forces.’ A fine group of young New Yorker residents have been brought together for this tour- they recorded Harrison’s 2014 Mother Stump album with him, so they’re used to working together. When not writing film scores, saxophonist/bassoonist Ben Wendel has been touring with Tigran Hamasyan, Eric Harland, Snoop Dogg and the artist formerly known as Prince, and his own Grammy nominated group Kneebody. Bassist Michael Bates has made nine albums under his own name, drawing on jazz, classical, world music and rock. Drummer Jeremy Clemons works regularly with Bates, when not touring with Andy Bey or DJ Carl Craig.
In Harrison’s own words: ‘I went for feeling in the pieces- openness, soul and spirit in the music.’
13th October - Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
15th October - The Spin, Oxford
16th October - The Bebop, Bristol
Joel Harrison at Whirlwind Recordings