Urban Myths

Joel Harrison

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Urban Myths Review

by Michael G. Nastos

Joel Harrison's music has been termed anything from intellectual to goofy, eclectic, down-home, or futuristic, incorporating the diverse elements available to his post-baby boomer generation. For Urban Myths, electric guitarist Harrison is inspired by Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi and Headhunters groups of the 1970s, mixing up their tones and textures while adding in violin-inspired artists like the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa via rising star Christian Howes. Young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh, and trombonist Corey King play on selected tracks, as does electric bass guitarist Fima Ephron. Harrison, the extraordinary rhythm team of bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Jordan Person, newcomer keyboardist Daniel Kelly, and the guitar player's longtime running mate David Binney on alto sax continue to weave new patterns of color and sound from a drier, off-minor, nearly soured viewpoint. While Harrison has over time been tapping on country, R&B, and blues sources much more than mainstream jazz, the music remains organically inclined, atmospheric without meditational devices, and naturally charged with high voltage. These original compositions bear an arresting sound due to the variant color combinations of the instruments. The sad epilogue tune "Last Waltz for Queva" is a country blues subtly imbued by Sabbagh's tenor and King's trombone; Howes and Binney combine on the side for the heavy plodding funk of "125 and Lenox"; while all the horns join in acidified or spiky lines as Harrison's chopped-up guitar stabs punctuate a refreshingly funky take of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," a variation in every sense. "You Must Go Through a Winter" is alternately soaring then funky coming from Howes and the rhythm section, respectively; Binney's vocal-styled leanings on his horn come through from the outset on the lighter funk-rocker "Between the Traveler and the Setting Sun"; while hot and heavy rock & roll with punk underpinnings identifies "High Expectation Low Return," a piece Harrison describes as the band drilling a hole into your speakers, referencing a turn-off factor that the group ultimately loves to pound on and press ahead with. The selections inspired by Hancock's former point of view include the stunning "Mood Rodeo," with its dour deeper funk accentuated by Harrison's blithe solo, and the title track, going hard-edged with beats as Howes and Binney turn skittish and altogether frenetic. Harrison's trademark sound -- if indeed he has one -- is nigh impossible to pin down, but for sure has an allure and purposeful intent strong enough to brand him an original, even a maverick. This intensely intriguing music needs to be heard more by the progressive music public at large, making Urban Myths an essential listen for 2009 and beyond.

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