Joel Harrison 7, Search

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.02.12 in Reviews
Making a sumptuous stew of genres

Joel Harrison would prefer that the centerpiece to Search be “A Magnificent Death,” his meticulously composed tribute to a fallen friend. But after numerous listens, I still find myself anticipating the arrival of the audaciously-paired covers near the end of the disc: a righteous and fairly faithful take on the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post,” followed by a gorgeous choral motet written by Olivier Messiaen in 1937, a sacred piece imbued with jazz in which Harrison’s guitar has the sweet birdlike resonance of Dickie Betts (not surprising, as Messiaen regarded himself as much ornithologist as composer). The greater point is, once again, Joel Harrison making a sumptuous stew of genres while managing to retain their sharpest essence. The four compositions that lead off Search are more beholden to the old masters of classical music in their harmonies and dovetailed passages and organization than to those influenced by Philip Glass or Steve Reich over the last 40 years. Yet in cellist Dana Leong and especially violinist Christian Howes, Harrison has kindred spirits who can deliver the plush effervescence of well-composed string passages yet are always alert for moments in which to value-add the agility and edginess of jazz. The rest of the “7″ are likewise distinguished: Bassist Stephan Crump is Vijay Iyer’s longtime cohort, Donny McCaslin is a tenor saxophonist in the vein of Chris Potter (check his great work on “All The Previous Pages Are Gone), and pianist Gary Versace is the most versatile and perhaps most important role player on the entire album, be it his bridging between the strings and the rhythm section or his incisive solos. The result is the musical equivalent of a cheese-and-fruit plate at the gourmand level — backed by the occasional shot of fine tequila.