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Jazz - Released September 27, 2004 | ACT Music

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This is an unusual set in which singer-guitarist Joel Harrison says that his goal is to "locate the confluence of Miles Davis and Johnny Cash." The music has country-style vocals from Harrison that alternate rather than blend in with adventurous jazz featuring saxophonist Dave Binney. The repertoire includes country pieces (from Jimmy Webb and Merle Haggard among others), some gospel numbers and a few recent originals. Although country music and jazz had fused together in the 1930s to form Western Swing, this CD has nothing in common with that in that the jazz is quite modern and the country singing is stark and emotional. Does it succeed? It will to listeners who enjoy both idioms of music and want to hear something very different than the usual. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 14, 2003 | ACT Music

Guitarist Joel Harrison recorded a dozen songs associated with country music, some of them quite traditional, but he recast them in surprising ways, making the CD title of Free Country fit quite well. Sometimes his steel guitar pays respect to the melodies and at other times he freaks out a bit on his electric guitar. None of the vocalists are that outstanding, and an instrumental "This Land Is Your Land" receives a surprisingly downbeat rendition. Norah Jones sings "I Walk The Line" and "Tennessee Waltz" quite straight, revealing that she is as comfortable in country music as jazz. Dave Binney's alto playing is a major asset on some of the more adventurous interpretations, and violinist Rob Thomas, pianist Uri Caine, and Tony Cedras on accordion add to the changing atmospheres of this strange but consistently colorful set. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 17, 2020 | Sunnyside

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Over two-plus decades spent living and working in New York, there is very little guitarist, composer, producer, and educator Joel Harrison hasn't tried. Early outings included the seminal Free Country with Norah Jones and David Binney, the orchestral Infinite Possibility, and the singer/songwriter date Other River. Harrison is working with a concept here. America at War is a big-band meditation on America's obsession with armed conflict; the country has been at war through 226 of its 240 years. In writing and arranging for a large group (they are conducted by trumpeter Matt Holman), Harrison pursues many musics under the rubric of jazz in eight originals and a cover of Tom Waits' "Day After Tomorrow," an antiwar song from 2004's Real Gone, issued the year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Some of Harrison's 18 collaborators include trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Lisa Parrot, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, bassist Gregg August, and pianist Daniel Kelly. The nearly ten-minute opener, "March on Washington," starts as a funky assertion with tubas, trap kit, a punchy brass groove, and Harrison's electric guitar laying out a sinister funk vamp adorned by Wilson Torres's vibraphone. It winds itself out to play off the funky, bluesy vamp evoking early Hot Rats- and Waka Jawaka-era Frank Zappa as it proceeds. Dave Smith's trumpet solo presages an explosive fuzzed-out wah-wah six-string break before the martial snare of Jared Schonig ushers in an extended cacophonous horn chart with a surprise conclusion. While "Yellowcake" begins with a noir-ish, dramatic, orchestral interlude, it suddenly shifts gears and finds a mean Latin groove accented by bright brass, hand percussion, and vibes, with killer solos from Hasselbring and Irabagon. "The Vultures at Afghanistan" is where the modernist big-band innovations of the Clarke-Boland Big Band meet the Afro-Cuban grooves of Irakere. Its solos from Irabagon, Ben Kono's snaky soprano saxophone, and Alan Ferber's boss trombone are underscored by Schonig's frenetic kit, as well as Torres' bongos, congas, and shakers." "Requiem for an Unknown Soldier" is moodier, more expressionistic. The piano shimmers while introducing a slowly developing horn chart that offers staggered harmonies and pillowy textures in a long, languid suite, complete with stellar blues-inflected soloing from Jensen and Harrison. "Gratitude" weaves soul, gospel, and sunshine pop into its arrangement. Its processional tempo begins to accelerate and nod at the influence of Oliver Nelson halfway through, with swirling orchestral colors and polyrhythms. While Harrison's guitar playing is front and center on Waits' "Day After Tomorrow," it is granted further poignancy by him singing the lyric in front of restrained and tasteful accompaniment. Finally, "Stupid, Heartless, Pointless Drug War," melds post-bop jazz balladry, gritty blues, funky syncopation, and swinging tempos that would make Henry Mancini doff his hat to the composer. With America at War, Harrison proves once again he is a master of articulating and innovating on the modern big-band form and is a compelling contributor to its written literature. This is a masterful work whose significance and musical importance will endure. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Contemporary Jazz - Released September 27, 2019 | Whirlwind Recordings

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Bebop - Released August 31, 2018 | HighNote Records

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Bebop - Released October 14, 2005 | HighNote Records

Harrison on Harrison finds jazz guitarist Joel Harrison investigating the music of rock icon George Harrison. Featuring a stellar ensemble including, among others, saxophonist David Liebman, pianist Uri Caine and drummer Dan Weiss, Harrison has crafted an adventurous and forward-thinking album that celebrates not only the former Beatle's superb songcraft, but also his sense of musical exploration. That exploration found George Harrison delving into everything from British folk music to gospel, psychedelic rock and ultimately Indian music. Joel Harrison fully embraces such eclecticism here, bringing all these styles to bear on tracks like "Within You Without You" (off the Beatles' 1967 classic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), expanding the raga-psych elements of the original into a post-bop wilderness of angular improvisation. Similarly, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" goes from a woozily funky Indian beat on the main verse, to a drunken soft-rock bridge that sounds something like guitarist Adrian Belew covering Burt Bacharach. Also exciting is "Taxman," which Harrison turns into an off-kilter boogaloo on the main theme, only to morph into a driving and expansive modal exercise for the solos. Harrison on Harrison is an inspired, engaging and superbly executed tribute to a true music original. © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Contemporary Jazz - Released July 6, 2015 | Whirlwind Recordings

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Country - Released July 14, 2017 | Whirlwind Recordings

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Jazz - Released January 18, 2011 | Sunnyside

Having a String Choir perform The Music of Paul Motian is certainly an attention-grabber if one knows anything about Paul Motian's contributions to the jazz world. Motian is a veteran drummer and a composer, not a member of a chamber group (although he started out on guitar early in his career before making the drums his main instrument). So what does a Motian-related project have to do with strings? This early-2010 recording, it turns out, finds guitarist Joel Harrison paying tribute to Motian with the help of fellow guitarist Liberty Ellman and a string quartet consisting of Christian Howes and Sam Bardfeld on violin, Dana Leong on cello, and Mat Maneri or Peter Ugrin on viola. Motian doesn't actually play on the album; in fact, there are no drums at all (only string instruments), and that says a lot about what Harrison was going for. Motian, more than anyone, realizes that jazz is about interpretation rather than emulation; Harrison obviously agrees, which is why his String Choir salutes Motian without trying to emulate him. Except for Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" and acoustic bassist Scott LaFaro's "Jade Visions" (which Motian played when he was part of pianist Bill Evans' trio), everything here is a Motian composition -- and Harrison's arrangements favor an ambitious mixture of post-bop, third stream, and mildly avant-garde jazz (emphasis on the word mildly). Euro-classical chamber music is a strong influence on "Cathedral Song," "Owl of Cranston," and other Motian pieces, but Harrison doesn't become so classical-obsessed that he lets improvisation fall by the wayside. No, that isn't the scenario at all. The guitarist doesn't sacrifice his jazz mentality, and there is plenty of room for Harrison and others to stretch out and improvise on this self-produced 55-minute CD. It should also be noted that even though The Music of Paul Motian has an inside/outside component (more inside than outside), this is far from an atonal free jazz screamfest; the performances are on the cerebral side, but they are also quite musical. This album by the Joel Harrison String Choir is a winner on many different levels, and Harrison's ambition serves him well throughout the imaginative project. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 18, 2013 | Sunnyside

The title of composer and guitarist Joel Harrison's Infinite Possibility is an apt one. On the one level, in his first exercise writing for an unconventional jazz big band -- this one includes French horn, English horn, vibraphone, and marimba -- the tonal, textural, and harmonic options are almost endless. On the other, when presented with such a bounty, making the right choices can be intimidating or frustrating. This six-part suite, conducted by JC Sanford, makes use of numerous American musical forms, though they all end up as jazz. "As We Gather All Around Her," with vocals by Everett Bradley, comes from an Appalachian hymn Harrison heard the Stanley Brothers play. It uses country gospel as a way of creating a foundation for various tonal palettes to develop by brass and woodwinds; the interplay is specific and bright before it scales itself back. Along the way there are terrific solos by saxophonist Donny McCaslin and pianist Daniel Kelly. "Dockery Farms" commences with a sparse frame, very deliberate in its use of gospel and blues motifs. Before long, however, by way of Harrison using electric slide guitar, it begins to wail, stomping as his six-string goes right at the choppy vamp-driven horns. Another high point in the track is the conversation by muted brass instruments and Curtis Fowlkes' trombone solo. The freight train of dissonance and dynamic in "The Overwhelming Infinity of Possibility" illustrates precisely the numerous directions Harrison allowed his muse to direct him, through blues, 20th century classical music, and Miles Davis from Gil Evans through his second quintet through Bitches Brew. If this reads like it doesn't or shouldn't work, fine -- but it does marvelously, and is the most compelling track here; the dialogue between brass and woodwind sections is knotty, defiant, quizzical, and bold. While "Highway" doesn't exactly swing after its tender opening section, it implies it through its use of the blues idiom. In its quieter moments the extrapolation harmonies between Harrison and the horns are elegant, beautiful. The cut also features fine solos by trombonist Alan Ferber and saxophonist Rob Scheps. Closer "Blue Lake Morning" with its four distinct phases -- and a moving solo by McCaslin -- is breathtaking in its range of musical diversity. Infinite Possibility may a personal milestone for Harrison -- an ambition realized. But for jazz listeners, it is a stellar exercise in musical imagination and vision. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Pop/Rock - Released November 17, 2011 | Sunnyside

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. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Bebop - Released April 13, 2007 | HighNote Records

Electric guitarist Joel Harrison is somewhat of a pioneer in following paths that are different than most so-called fusion guitarists. From hard-edged and exploratory progressive sounds to country amalgams and ethnic infusions, Harrison has been one to keep an ear pinned to the tracks for, as you never know what direction he'll approach from. In the case of Harbor, a nautical theme is present, but coming from the deck of a very large freighter hauling precious metals. Second guitarist Nguyên Lê galvanizes the steely tone while longtime bandmate alto saxophonist David Binney adds the ballast and balance that keep the ship moving forward. This collection has a signature sound of Harrison's concept, de-emphasizing solos and concentrating on a shared ownership, and the music has a suspended-in-time feeling while remaining fully contemporary. "Hudson Shining" (sans Lê) expresses Harrison's ethos perfectly, as he and Binney shout hopeful outcries as a springboard for extended melody lines that resonate infinitely. Revealing the musicians at their most animated, "End Time" is a bit frenetic, very involved in the 7/8 time frame, and demarcates a point where contemporary classical composer Olivier Messiaen meets Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas from the Miles Davis fusion bands. Harbor is not without its languid and introspective moments; the title track with the echoing guitars of Harrison and Lê combines the sexiness of Marvin Gaye with the thoughtfulness of Bill Evans. A tribute to Atlantic City, "American Babylon" is moody and dour, with Lê contrastingly on fire, and fully demonstrates the partnership of the differently able guitarists. The extraordinary percussionist Jamey Haddad also appears on the six tracks that include Lê, while Satoshi Takeishi and the rising-star bassist Stephan Crump appear on another two apiece. Binney is a treat throughout, asserting his alto as a true original voice in modern jazz. If guitar hero mavens were wise, they would be well served to keep abreast of the future activities of Harrison, a visionary and unique player in contemporary jazz. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 20, 2010 | Innova

3 stars out of 5 -- "Some of THE WHEEL's most exciting moments come out of carefully mapped passages, especially the kora-like plucked strings on 'Blues Circle' and the bowing-and-blowing unisons on 'Rising.'" © TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released April 1, 2013 | Joel Harrison

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Bebop - Released May 5, 2009 | HighNote Records

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. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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House - Released October 22, 2007 | Soul Science Recordings

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Country - Released May 28, 2009 | Pure Land

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House - Released November 3, 2008 | Soul Science Recordings

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2012 | Cuneiform Records

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2014 | Cuneiform Records