Holy Abyss

Joel Harrison / Lorenzo Feliciati

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Holy Abyss Review

by Thom Jurek

Holy Abyss is an international collaborative effort between American guitarist Joel Harrison, Italian bassist Lorenzo Feliciati, Vietnamese-American trumpeter Cuong Vu, Great Britain's Roy Powell on piano and B-3, and American drummer-percussionist Dan Weiss. Though this quintet comes together for the first time here, Harrison has long worked with Weiss, and Feliciati with Powell and Vu. Of the eight compositions , Harrison and Feliciati each contribute three and Vu, two. Holy Abyss has a definite feel reminiscent of ECM recordings at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the '80s, when interplay and collaboration between electric and acoustic instruments began in earnest. The first impression of Holy Abyss is of its pristine sound. Each instrument sounds warm and fluid yet holds a separate space in the mix. Two of Harrison's tunes open the set: "Requiem for an Unknown Soldier" and "Saturday Night in Pendleton." They offer definite melodic frames but are both ushered in gently before things begin to get abstract. Weiss' skeletal yet dancing drum work in the opener reveals just how much freedom is allowed here. The inherent lyricism between guitar and trumpet is haunting, shimmering, and emotionally powerful. The latter tune swings in a more conventional way, but it is so nocturnal and eerie, one can hear it as an exercise in syncopation and harmonic inquiry -- before a forceful dynamic change takes it to the margins of rock. Feliciati's "Small Table Rules" opens with some jumping, bluesy, post-bop vamping by Powell followed by the rhythm section. When the trumpet and guitar enter, things get edgier, more intricate and fragmentary, though Feliciati and Weiss keep the groove circular, even when Vu and Harrison get skronky. The guitarist's "North Wind (Mistral)" begins as a free floating, midtempo ballad before it transforms itself into a creative, swinging, tour de force where both Vu and Weiss shine. Vu's "Old and New" sounds like its title. While the trumpeter plays a post-bop melody that threatens to break into song at any moment, the rest of the band stretches his harmonies' time to where it slips, yet continues to swing. Feliciati's "That Evening," with quiet bass and trumpet intertwining in the intro, is mesmerizing. When Powell and Weiss enter, they do so haltingly at first, but still allow Vu to play scattered and blurred notes before deconstructing the song's ballad-like structure into a whisper as it fades. Holy Abyss is a collaborative union that communicates at the highest levels of disciplined and intuitive musicianship; the complexities in these tunes are easy to underestimate by a casual listener, because these players make it all sound as if they were joining together for an informal jam session, rather than exploring the wildly sophisticated, expansive musical terrain they actually do.

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