One Track Mind: The Joel Harrison 7, "Whipping Post" (2012)

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photo courtesy of Fully Altered Media

Here’s a guitarist with a version of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.” Think you know how this is gonna go, right? If you do, you didn’t consider that Joel Harrison isn’t into predictable music.

Last spring, this fusion/modern creative/post-bop/etc. guitarist released an album whereby he leads a septet that includes sax player Donny McCaslin and pianist Gary Versace. Harrison is basically a jazz guy, but listening to this record — which also includes a violin and cello player to go along with acoustic bass and drums — makes one wonder if he’s really more of a classical guy. Search, as it’s called, features challenging compositions that are meticulously charted and episodic, similar to mini-symphonies. “I wanted to challenge myself compositionally and try to use extended forms and some new techniques (for me),” avers Harrison, “without sacrificing spontaneity, a tricky balance.” And indeed, there is spontaneity to be found on this record, just don’t expect to find them in the same places you would find them on a mainstream jazz or a fusion record.

There are a couple of covers that Harrison also chose for challenging himself and his band, and one is one of the least likely song to be found on a chamber jazz record. “Whipping Post” could be considered the “Freebird” of jam rock songs, that is, when the jammers are serious improvisers. Harrison steps a little out of character from the rest of the album and plays some slide, but allows cellist Dana Leong and drummer Clarence Penn the choicest solo turns (it must have killed Versace not to cut loose on his bread-and-butter B3 on this tune). McCaslin doubles up with Harrison on the theme, instead of the normal organ/guitar unison.

As the oddball track on this album, “Whipping Post” does make a lot of sense in the whole scheme of things. You can play whatever you want on this song, just as long as you revisit the theme once in a while. What the Harrison 7 did in between paying homage to the head is were to create some distinct episodes, starting with a slower, bluesier but knottier intro. The strings played more like fiddles introduce a bluegrass element to the song that’s a natural fit, and performed well because the musicians are such good at interplay. In that sense, Harrison even here was able to strike that balance between using extended forms and spontaneity.

Harrison very clearly stated about what he wanted to get out of the Search album as a whole, but to encounter this uninhibited rocker in the middle of all those sophisticated, carefully performed pieces, what I think he wanted from “Whipping Post” is for everyone to simply let their hair down within some broad parameters of chamber jazz. And everyone responded accordingly.

Search was released March 27 by Sunnyside Records. Visit Joel Harrison’s site for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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