Gavin Harrison – Cheating the Polygraph (2015)

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Working in a manner that recalls Philip Glass’ sweeping redesign of David Bowie’s Low, Gavin Harrison’s Cheating the Polygraph renders familiar themes from his band Porcupine Tree in an entirely different light. You could call it jazz at times, but with touches approaching neo-prog. You could describe it as a classical update at others, or fusion on a big-band scale.

Whereas Glass (in keeping, really, with the source material) tended to work with light orchestral brush strokes, Gavin Harrison’s reconstruction charges forward with knifing brass and drumming that startles in its inventiveness without ever becoming a tumultuous distraction. Harrison radically expands on the big-band model too, adding bass clarinets, tuba and harmonium to what is typically a steady diet of trumpets and saxes.

The effect on Cheating the Polygraph is as cinematic as it is surprising. In scale and conception, it has little to do with the jazz records Gavin Harrison heard as the son of a trumpet-playing father, or King Crimson, with whom he’s currently drumming — or even the Porcupine Tree records Harrison played on, for that matter. There are points in which the songs are unrecognizably deconstructed, taking us into fresh new areas of invention. Gavin Harrison and bassist/arranger Laurence Cottle might smartly return to a main theme, offering a waft of something familiar to keep Porcupine Tree fans grounded. But that principally serves as a foundation for every mind-bending musical excursion that follows, not a stopping point.

As Cheating the Polygraph unfolds, touchstones well beyond Porcupine Tree bob to the surface. You hear Lalo Schifrin, and a splash of Gene Krupa. Don Ellis, and the flinty creativity of Frank Zappa. Steve Reich and Buddy Rich. And then, something else: Gavin Harrison, making a statement of his very own. All of those earlier sounds inform his nervy new project at least as much as, if not more than, his now-dormant old band with Steven Wilson.

In fact, so inventive are these new approaches on Cheating the Polygraph, a Kscope release five meticulous years in the making, that you might find yourself re-checking the track listing to find out just which Porcupine Tree song you’re dealing with. Listen, for instance, to the polyrhythmic horn intro on “What Happens Now?” Each brass piece has been placed in striking opposition, one after another, creating an utterly brilliant cacophony. It’s a few worlds away from the 2007’s Nil Recurring, the source material for that song.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Gavin Harrison isn’t just shedding light into previously unexplored corners of Porcupine Tree’s songs. He’s streaking out to previously unexplored musical horizons.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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