Review by Fiona Mactaggart
Manchester, England-born pianist, composer and arranger Paul Harrison since moving to Scotland a decade ago has become a stalwart of the Scottish jazz scene, playing with such names as Chris Potter, Tommy Smith and Carol Kidd and in everything from solo to big band formats and everything in between. It’s a puzzle as to how he finds the time to also teach at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and The University of Edinburgh, but it comes as no surprise that Harrison has kept himself busy during the quarantine, using the time to create a solo piano tribute to many of his jazz musical influences, many of which are American.
Adventures From Home was recorded at Harrison’s home over summer 2020, the album credits listing 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 eleven tracks of which two are self-penned. The solo piano stands strong with occasional slight electronic embellishments which reference Harrison’s activities in that field. The affection he obviously holds for all the covers he interprets shines throughout, while some of the most interesting parts of each track are the improvisations. Harrison reports that one of his earliest solo piano influences is Detroit-raised master Hank Jones and certainly there are similarities, not least their shared lyricism and impeccable style.
The Album opens with two Standards, ‘Alone Together’ by Dietz and Schwartz and ‘O Grande Amor’ by Antonio Carlos Jobim. 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 Brazilian composer and pianist-guitarist Egberto Gismonti, who Harrison has long hailed as a genius. Harrison plays these with obvious relish, in Loro the classical music backgrounds of both Gismonti and Harrison seem evident, while Don Quixote’s limpid gorgeousness steps into Cecil Taylor territory before a beautifully rendered ending.
Fresh feeling and brimming with chutzpah, fifth track, Duke Ellington’s ‘Morning Glory’ is almost at the centre point of the album and is followed by the two pieces composed by Harrison himself, a 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 took up residence in Scotland and Harrison has recorded it in various formats over the years. The present iteration opens with a sense of foreboding, before lyrical then ruminative passages emerge. Complex and satisfying upper register busyness 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 firm clarity including through the central improvisation.
Next up is Steve Swallow’s Standard, ‘Falling Grace’, its highly dramatic, almost gushing quality at times evoking for this listener McCoy Tyner, before just fading away. Appropriately what follows is Carla Bley’s ‘Flags’, an interpretation so free it sounds 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 “relish(es) the freedom and harmonic possibility afforded by having no other musicians present”, adding that without any input from other musicians there is obviously a trade-off. However, by any measure this is a trade-off that works. Adventures From Home confirms Harrison as a major figure in UK jazz. Hopefully he won’t wait too long before recording solo again, perhaps next time including more of his own compositions.
Adventures From Home was released on 1 September 2020, digital release only, with three video clips and 6-page PDF booklet with liner notes and photos, available from Bandcamp.