Joel Harrison / Joel Harrison 7

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There are few places you're likely to find classically influenced jazz compositions, Olivier Messiaen's "O Sacrum Convivium," and the Allman Brothers Band's "Whipping Post" side by side. Guitarist Joel Harrison's Search, his second date as a leader for Sunnyside, does exactly that. Harrison is accompanied by a killer band: saxophonist Donny McCaslin, pianist Gary Versace, violinist Christian Howes, cellist Dana Leong, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Clarence Penn. McCaslin and Penn truly stand out in this ensemble. "Grass Valley and Beyond" is written in memory of a friend. Harrison spent a great deal of time with him as he was dying and trying to finish a book. The elements of classical minimalism readily make themselves heard throughout via the strings, though the band moves through various lyric statements and McCaslin's tenor solo pushes the frame and blurs the lines between it and jazz. "A Magnificent Death" is simultaneously more abstract and more formal. Yet here, many of the phrases written for strings actually swing. Guitar, piano, and saxophone all play in unison on the knotty melodic structure. "The Beauty of Failure" is a gorgeous balladic piece with layers of warm, spacious improvisation and a very fine solo by Crump. Harrison's transcription and arrangement of "Whipping Post" is just free enough to walk the line between jam band dramatics and jazz improvisation. It doesn't commence with the classic riff, but instead with Harrison's slide guitar freely soaring in from the edges. Versace's B-3 adds necessary color and dynamic tension, and the strings punch the center. It's McCaslin who states the theme about a minute in and plays the melody faithfully with Harrison. His tone, however, is so gorgeous and full, he makes it swing. Leong's swirling cello break and Penn's drum solo are both incendiary. McCaslin's forceful repetitive assertion of another riff brings the band back to begin the long, brawling climax with Harrison doing his slide best -- a cappella -- just before they nail it shut. Messiaen's "O Sacrum Convivium" is a rubato tone poem with an excellent solo from Harrison, despite the taut arrangement. Search is yet another achievement in Joel Harrison's deliberate, inventive, low-key evolution as a soloist, composer, and arranger.

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