Gavin Harrison – Cheating The Polygraph
(Kscope. CD Review by Eric Ford)
Uber-drummer Gavin Harrison may be best-known for his work in the prog-rock field with Porcupine Tree and now King Crimson, but his father played trumpet with Sid Phillips’ band so he grew up hearing big bands, Dixieland jazz and swing. However there are a number of ways in which this is a highly irregular big band project and more a prog-rock CD with big band instrumentation.
For a start, the raw material is from the repertoire of Porcupine Tree, brilliantly arranged by Laurence Cottle who also plays bass guitar with characteristic aplomb throughout. The arrangements are so dense that it’s unsurprising the 8 tracks on the album took 5 years to be conceived and recorded in between the busy live schedules of all concerned. There are few solos (and none of them from Harrison or Cottle, which is a shame since they’re both brilliant soloists) and those that there are don’t last long. It’s hard to think of a big band CD with more emphasis on the arrangements and their performance. The precision with which they’re played also has something to do with how they were recorded – multi-tracked by some of the UK’s finest talents including Mark Nightingale (trombone), Nigel Hitchcock (saxes) and Ryan Quigley and Tom Walsh (trumpets). As a consequence, the ensemble performances are strikingly perfect.
In terms of instrumentation there are a number of surprises, such as no keyboard except in a couple of places, no guitar, lots of flute (from Larry Williams, Gareth Lockrane and Andy Findon) and woodwinds, baritone and tenor horn courtesy of Andy Wood, tuba, euphonium, something called a tubax wielded briefly by Pete Long, assorted orchestral percussion and marimba added by Gavin Harrison himself. The arrangements are so texturally, harmonically and rhythmically varied throughout that the endings of tracks usually come as a surprise, although they might not to people more familiar with the original versions than I am.
Another way in which this doesn’t sound like a standard big band is due to Gavin Harrison’s drumming, utilising across-the-barline multiple tom-tom melodies, inventive time patterns in the groove sections and explosive fills. There are swing sections (and yes, they do swing) but there’s a lot of time spent in 5 and in 7, often with the drums or competing banks of instruments masking the fact.
Ultimately this album is a showcase for the ensemble-playing talents of all concerned, Gavin Harrison’s creativity, power and precision on the drums, and Laurence Cottle’s extraordinary skills both as arranger and bassist.