Redwood Jazz Alliance

Joel Harrison and Spirit House
Thursday, April 4, 8 p.m.| Arcata Playhouse

"Add Joel Harrison to Metheny and Frisell as guitarist/composers who have created a new blueprint for jazz."
–New Orleans Times Picayune

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Joel Harrison

Joel Harrison is one of our unsung (okay, undersung) heroes.  Guitarist, composer, arranger, vocalist, songwriter, bandleader, recipient of numerous grants and commissions—Harrison fronts an astonishing variety of large and small groups that venture across all sorts of stylistic divides and take inspiration from a broad array of sonic inventors, from the open-eared expansiveness of Miles Davis and Charles Ives to the American rhapsodies of Walt Whitman and Hank Williams. His inclusive sound fits equally well in jazz clubs, concert halls, and the occasional dive bar across town.

A Washington, D.C. native, Harrison was part of the vibrant 1990s Bay Area jazz scene before moving to New York at the end of that decade.  Over the past 15 years, his genre-busting discography has included Free Country (recastings of classic country and Appalachian music); Harrison on Harrison (re-composed improvisations of the music of George Harrison), String Choir (compositions by drummer Paul Motian arranged for string quartet and two guitars); and The Wheel (an extended suite for mixed string quartet and jazz quintet that jazz writer Bill Milkowski calls "a staggering work of indescribable beauty"). Harrison's two most recent CDs, Holy Abyss and Search, both released in 2012, reflect an ongoing interest in long-form composition that combines substantial notation with adventurous improvisation. "Ultimately," says Harrison, "you’re just trying to arrive at great music. Sometimes the best methodology is to leave people to their own devices and sometimes it’s best to write everything down."

In the case of "Spirit House," it's an all-star band that he's leaving to its own devices—although the group's lineup also reflects Harrison's penchant for unorthodox instrumention. Case in point: Paul Hanson, who sits atop a very short list of improvising masters of the electric bassoon. (Hanson, a bandmate of Harrison's in the 90s, recently returned from a sojourn in Japan; this is his first West Coast appearance in some years.) Trumpeter Cuong Vu (Pat Metheny, Myra Melford) is known for his atmospheric lyricism and electronic experimentation. Bassist Kermit Driscoll (Bill Frisell, John Hollenbeck) has been a mainstay of the New York "downtown" scene since the early 80s. And drummer Brian Blade (Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell, and his own Fellowship Band) is simply one of the giants of his generation.

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Tickets ($15 General Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here at our website, or at Wildberries, Wildwood Music, People's Records, and The Works.

Joel Harrison will take part in a pre-concert "Meet the Composer" talk, where he'll discuss composing for Spirit House and take questions from the audience. That's at 7:00 p.m.—before the show—at the Arcata Playhouse. All ticket holders are welcome to attend.

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  • At left: "Whipping Post" and "Grass Valley and Beyond," from Search (Sunnyside, 2012); "Saturday Night in Pendleton," from Holy Abyss (Cuneiform, 2012); and "The Wheel: 1. American Farewell," from The Wheel (Innova, 2008)
  • Harrison interviewed on Jason Crane's The Jazz Session (2012) and the podcast (2012)

Additional support for this show comes from Big Pete's Pizzeria, Jambalaya Arcata, Lady Anne Victorian Inn, Libation Wine Shop & Wine Bar, Rustic West Trading Company, and Tomo Japanese Restaurant.

HSU SealJoel Harrison's pre-concert talk is made possible through the generosity of HSU's Office of the President, the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Department of Music.

If you or your business would like to consider sponsoring a Redwood Jazz Alliance event and/or advertising in our concert programs, please e-mail us or visit our Underwriting & Donations page.

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