String Choir – Downbeat Review

String Choir

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. (more…)

The Music of Paul Motian

String Choir

By John Kelman, All About Jazz

Joel Harrison has stretched the boundaries of form and freedom for over fifteen years, but Urban Myths (HighNote, 2009) and, in particular, the ambitious The Wheel(Innova, 2008), have represented significant evolutionary leaps. The Wheelmarried a conventional horn-led jazz quintet with a classical string quartet, its collection of Harrison originals pushing the limits of cross-pollination by eliminating all preconceived stylistic delineators. The Music of Paul Motian takes The Wheel‘s advancements a step further, focusing on Motian’s writing, rather than the textural and temporally implicit playing approach that has made him such an ongoing role model for generations of drummers. (more…)

NY Times review Jan 10 gig

Orange Mountain Music, Philip Glass’s record label, was founded in 2001 as an outlet for Mr. Glass’s archival and out-of-print recordings. But the label quickly began releasing Mr. Glass’s new works as well, and before long it was releasing discs by musicians in Mr. Glass’s ensemble and young composers who had caught his ear.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Artists From Philip Glass’s Orange Mountain Music Label From left, Tony Trischka on banjo, Foday Musa Suso on kora and the guitarist Joel Harrison, members of Fojoto String Band, at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday.

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The label presented a few of its recent finds at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday evening. Though Mr. Glass was present, he neither spoke nor performed, nor was any of his music played: the cellist Wendy Sutter was scheduled to play his “Songs and Poems” but withdrew because of illness.

The opening set was devoted to a suite from Trevor Gureckis’s soundtrack for “Les Adieux,” a score for piano, violin, cello and flute. Mr. Gureckis works as Mr. Glass’s musical assistant, but his boss’s influence is scarce: the three movements he offered here are built on mildly angular, light-textured piano themes, with the flute and string lines weaving intricate counterpoint around them. This is music with a Gallic urbanity, even in passages where the piano figures have an almost Webernian quality.

The guitarist and composer Joel Harrison was to have presented chamber works he is recording for the label, but those would also have required Ms. Sutter. So instead Mr. Harrison convened the Fojoto String Band, an improvisatory collaboration with Tony Trischka, the banjo player, and Foday Musa Suso, a virtuoso on the kora, an African string instrument that looks like a lute and sounds like a harp.

Mr. Harrison described the group’s music as African, Appalachian jazz, and that seemed about right. When Mr. Suso and Mr. Trischka provided the starting points for the ensemble’s extended explorations, they each drew on traditional styles and specific configurations associated with their instruments, yet when they played together, they created a texture so unified that it was often hard to separate them.

Mr. Harrison’s contributions, on acoustic and electric guitars, stood apart more clearly and often provided the impulse for the ensemble to shift directions and balances.

The trio was joined by the composer, pianist and percussionist Mick Rossi, who played a dumbek (a Middle Eastern drum) in most of the improvisations, and by the saxophonist Andy Laster and the percussionist Charles Descarfino for the wonderfully idiosyncratic arrangement of John Coltrane’s “Chasin’ the Trane” that closed the set.

Mr. Rossi was ostensibly on hand to promote his new recording, “Songs From the Broken Land.” But he played only one piece from that collection of solo piano works, the energetic, Bartokian “Lockdown.” He devoted the rest of his set to his appealingly supple jazz compositions, for an ensemble in which he was joined by Mr. Laster, Mr. Descarfino, Russ Johnson on trumpet and Kermit Driscoll on double bass.

CD Review: "Urban Myths" by Joel Harrison

Urban Myths

By Dr. Matthew Warnock, Modern Guitarist

Urban Myths is an exciting and innovative modern jazz record by New York based guitarist Joel Harrison. Accompanied by some of the idiom’s leading musicians, including Christian Howes, violin; Daniel Kelly, keyboards; Stephan Crumb, bass; Jordan Person, drums; and the ever brilliant David Binney on alto sax, Harrison delivers an album that blurs the boundaries separating jazz, rock and funk in an experimental and highly enjoyable fashion. While fusing musical genres has long been a popular custom in the jazz world, Harrison presents a unique approach to the realm of jazz fusion. His highly developed rhythmic sense, alongside his ability to write convincing melody lines, allows Harrison to present an album that pushes boundaries without isolating the audience. (more…)

Bass CD Reviews – Urban Myths

Urban Myths

By Damian Erskine, Bass CD

So I did a tour with guitarist Joel Harrison about 6 or 7 years ago (as a sub for Kai Eckhardt).  The sheet music got lost in the mail & I was at that point in my development in which I was good but didn’t have a lot of things together that I should have (inexperienced really).  Listening to the music, I figured, “well.. I’ll be ok, sounds really interesting but like it won’t be too hard to sight-read, play, etc…”.  MAN!!  I got my a## handed to me on that tour!  The caliber at which Joel and the company he keeps operates is consistently high and his music is demanding, intense and beautiful all at once.  That was a very important turning point for me and my playing..  I learned a lot on that tour about the work I still had to do.  That said, I was very excited to hear of his new CD and just had to share it with you guys… (more…)

Reviews of The Wheel

Guitarist Joel Harrison has been quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) forging a path of adventure in modern music. Not necessarily content with arbitrary categories, he is discovering ways to utilize all the different musical streams of the world. He has used jazz improvisation as a starting point but it’s never the be-all-end-all, the kind of thing that draws more attention to technique than to storytelling. His musicianship and that of his cohorts is always of the virtuoso variety but what you come away with is something much more. (more…)

All About Jazz Reviews 'Harrison on Harrison'

By John Kelman

“For Harrison on Harrison the guitarist/vocalist pays tribute to the late Beatle George Harrison, proving that nothing is immutable, and that even songs from the collective subconscious are completely malleable and capable of inspiring all manner of reshaping. (more…)

Free Country II with David Binney

This is Joel Harrison’s second CD on the ACT label, a followup to his hugely successful Free Country release of 2003. Once again Harrison travels along the seams of Jazz, Country, Blues, and Spirituals, using country classics, hymns, and folk tunes as a gateway to creative music making. Harrison has included his own compositions on this release, side by side with gems by Merle Haggard, Jimmy Webb, the Stanley Brothers, as well as timeless traditional tunes. Harrison’s singular arranging style and the improvisational talents of his band create a dramatic atmosphere full of compositional surprises, gorgeous, moody textures, explosive soloing and quiet, intimate detail. (more…)