CD review

Paul Harrison – “Adventures From Home”

Paul Harrison – Adventures From Home
(Self-released. Download available from Bandcamp. Review by Fiona Mactaggart)

Manchester-born pianist, composer and arranger Paul Harrison has become a stalwart of the Scottish jazz scene over the past 20 years, playing with such names as Tommy Smith, and Carol Kidd, and in everything from solo to big band formats. He also teaches at both The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh. It comes as no surprise, then, that Harrison has been keeping busy and productive during the quarantine, including recording this solo album.

In fact, Harrison is responsible for every aspect of the album, recorded in summer 2020: the credits list his roles as: “piano, synthesisers, production, mixing, mastering, artwork, design, video engineering and editing”. Running to just under 47 minutes, the digital-only album consists of 11 tracks of which two are original compositions. The solo piano stands strong, with occasional slight electronic embellishments. The affection he obviously holds for all the tunes he interprets is evident. Harrison has mentioned that one of his earliest solo piano influences is the great Hank Jones, and the lyricism and impeccable style of the Detroit-raised master are certainly in evidence.

The album opens with two standards, Alone Together by Dietz and Schwartz and O Grande Amor by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. In the first Harrison announces his clear, crisp style without detracting from the loveliness of the melody, while in the second the ambling lyricism ends in a notably gorgeous shimmer of sustain pedal.

The following two tracks, Loro and Don Quixote are both by Egberto Gismonti. Harrison’s admiration for the Brazilian composer and pianist-guitarist is long-standing, and he plays these pieces with obvious relish. Loro has more classical poise, while Don Quixote’s limpid gorgeousness steps into Cecil Taylor territory before an ending which is simply beautiful.

Fresh-feeling and brimming with chutzpah, Duke Ellington’s Morning Glory is almost at the midway point of the album, and is followed by the two pieces written by Harrison himself, the short and sweet Duke Street and the striking The City From The Window. According to the liner notes, the latter was written shortly after Harrison first took up residence in Scotland. He has recorded it in various formats over the years. Here it opens with a sense of foreboding, before lyrical then ruminative passages emerge. Complex and satisfying upper register busy-ness distracts from lower register gravitas, some light electronic touches adding interest at the close. An album highlight for this listener.

Pat Metheny’s Better Days Ahead offers some timely encouragement in these pandemic days, Harrison playing with a firm clarity including through the central improvisation.

Next up is Steve Swallow’s Falling Grace, its high drama, almost gushing quality at times evoking for this listener McCoy Tyner, before it just fades away. Appropriately what follows is Carla Bley’s Flags, an interpretation so free it sounded as if it could almost have been completely improvised.

The final track, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ standard Never Let Me Go also has a lovely, open feel, a Latin rhythm underlying Harrison’s signature crisp right hand, enhanced with a smidgeon of electronics at about 3 minutes. Finishing off the tonic, this listener was left with a feeling of mild uncertainty, yet wanting more.

Harrison has noted that he “really relish(es) the freedom and harmonic possibility afforded by having no other musicians present”, adding that without other musicians there is obviously a trade-off. However, by any measure he has made it all work. Adventures From Home confirms Harrison as a major figure in UK jazz who hopefully won’t wait too long before recording solo again, perhaps next time including more of his own compositions.

Fiona Mactaggart lives in Edinburgh, plays drums and writes about music on Scottishjazzspace.co.uk

Adventures From Home was released on 1 September 2020 and the album package includes a three video clips and 6-page PDF booklet with liner notes and photos.

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