Jazz CD Reviews

Joel Harrison – Urban Myths – HighNote – HighNote

Joel Harrison just keeps going from strength to strength.

Published on August 29, 2009

Joel Harrison – Urban Myths – HighNote – HighNote

Joel Harrison – Urban Myths – HighNote – HighNote HCD 7194, 56:24 *****:

(Joel Harrison – guitar; David Binney – alto saxophone; Christian Howes – violin; Daniel Kelly  – Keyboards; Stephan Crump – acoustic bass; Jordan Perlson – drums; with Fima Ephron – electric bass, tracks 2 & 8; Ambrose Akinmusire – trumpet, tracks 4, 5, & 7; Corey King – trombone, tracks 4, 5, & 7; Jerome Sabbag – tenor saxophone, tracks 4 & 5)

With his eleventh disc as headliner, Joel Harrison deserves to be reckoned among the finest jazz guitarist/composer/leaders on the scene today. That he operates in relative obscurity says a lot about the sad state of jazz marketing and promotion—not to say listener acumen—when lesser talents grab all the accolades and hype. Exhibiting chops worthy of a McLaughlin or Metheny, but with a quirky concept and compositional method all his own, Harrison in many ways surpasses these acknowledged masters of jazz guitar. Urban Myths finds him in finest fettle, doing what he does best: carving out his own rockish-jazzy territory, with a killer band and a handful of attractive compositions.

Longtime partner David Binney on alto saxophone immediately stamps the proceedings with his virtuoso yet entirely accessible playing (check out his masterful solo on “125 and Lenox”), while relative newcomer Jordan Perlson (misspelled as “Person” on the back panel of the jewel box), who has extensive credits in rock, jazz, and drum ’n’ bass settings, lays down some righteous beats, as does his rhythm partner, New York-based bassist Stephan Crump. Christian Howes on violin also makes some sassy statements, and Daniel Kelly (a name new to me) on keyboards scores big. Guests Ambrose Akinmusire, an up ’n’ coming trumpet phenom, trombonist Corey King, e-bassist Fima Ephron, and tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbag add apposite contributions on several numbers.

Drawing inspiration from late 70s groups such as those led by Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, and Wayne Shorter, the tunes, while having a distinct retro feel, transcend any particular era even as they draw on specific moves made by above noted artists. As with the best jazz, this music integrates past configurations even as it navigates new and uncharted waters. Standout tunes include “Straight No Chaser (variations),” perfectly exemplifying Harrison’s compositional and performance approach: referencing Monk the master, but intriguingly expanding the rhythmic/melodic framework; “Between the Traveler and the Setting Sun,” with its sophisticated yet strangely homely aesthetic, grounded in some Middle Earthlike vision mapped onto a joyously Chthonic sensibility; the straightforward simplicity of “Urban Myths”; the dazzlingly dark mysteriousness of “Mood Rodeo”; and “Last Waltz for Queva,” with its heartfelt and gloriously achieved requiem mood.

With his clarity of vision and elaborately realized musical moves, Joel Harrison stands head and shoulders above many of his more highly touted jazz contemporaries.

You Must Go Through a Winter
125 and Lenox
Mood Rodeo
Last Waltz for Queva
Straight No Chaser (variations)
Between the Traveler and the Setting Sun
Urban Myths
High Expectation Low Return

– Jan P. Dennis

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