Guitarist Joel Harrison is a jazz musician of the generation(s) for which non-jazz inspirations are not anathema -- or, to put it far more simply, he's no elitist snob. While I wouldn't give him the "fusion" tag (not that there's anything wrong with that), Harrison freely draws on fusion, bebop, post bop, classical, free jazz, rock, country, folk, Carnatic/South Indian music, whatever works for him. Harbor, his latest opus, ought to be the standard by which future jazz guitar albums are measured. [OK, that's hyperbole, but it is an attention-grabber, isn't it?] Harrison has seemingly little interest in following in the six-string trails of Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, or Wes Montgomery -- Harbor is one of the most original 'n' fresh jazz guitar platters I've EVER heard in all me born days.
Without being hokey or heavy-handed, Harrison conjures 20th century classical thorniness, energy-laced free blitz, and regal rock drama in the same 5-minute piece ("End Time," where Ornette Coleman, the Allman Brothers, and Oliver Messiaen converge, thrust & parry). He's able to transition from a proud yet yearning, blues-laden, spiritually charged (in any sense you'd care to name) elegy/tribute to New Orleans ("Blue Ghosts of Bourbon Street") to poised jazz balladry (the captivating, waltz-like "The Refugee"). Harrison's guitar methodology has the refined clarity of Jim Hall, the wail & bite of Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan, the heartfelt zing of George Harrison (hey you over there, don't get smug/dismissive -- the late George was an underrated rock guitar hero of the 1960s and Joel H recorded an entire disc of his songs), the range of Yardbirds-era Jimmy Page (oh yeah? dig the opening to JH's "American Babylon" solo), and the plucky fluidity of J. McLaughlin and Larry Coryell in their fusion glory days (just for the sake of argument, the years 1969-1973) without ever quite "sounding like" them. But let's not slight his combo -- the slightly bittersweet, vocal, astringent, and lithe alto of David Binney and the nearly Harmolodic buzz 'n' crackle of Jamey Haddad's drumming (sort-of a cross between Joe Morello and R. Shannon Jackson) contribute substantially to the gusto & wonderment of Harbor. I don't want to spoil the thrill of discovery for you hepcats -- in my "humble" opinion Harbor is likely the most vital, in-its-own-orbit jazz/guitar disc of 2007. Say, Jimmy, it can be a wonderful life, despite all appearances.