By Jon Ross, DownBeat
Guitarist Joel Harrison’s latest group of arrangements – Paul Motion tunes arranged for string quartets – belongs in a gray area between classical and jazz. this isn’t simply jazz with strings, the subgenre that once bewitched Charlie Parker; Harrison’s record leans more toward classical music, but it’s certainly not the jazz-as-classical mishmash more recently explored by Wynton Marsalis.
The tunes cover a wide range of Motian’s career. “It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago” begins with a mournful conversation between cello and violin on top of an ethereal guitar landscape. Dynamics roll up and down, and tempos fluctuate, but the piece retains its languid quality, the instruments constantly pushing and pulling against each other.
On “Drum Song,” the musicians saw on their strings and bang on the cavities of their instruments. Harrison’s version of Thelonius Monk’s “Misterioso” – included in the album because Motian often plays the number with his trio – is a dissonant fog with a pizzicato melody.
Harrison takes this heady music and creates string compositions that demand an active, engaged listener. String Choir is a tribute record to a jazz heavyweight, but it could also stand on its own on the classical rack.