Bay Area visitors get all dolled up for White House dinner
By Leah Garchik | Robert Mailer Anderson and buddy Eric Harland, drummer and a resident artistic director at SFJazz, went to the White House last week for the state dinner in honor of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. To put the most important thing first, the Hollywood news site the Wrap ran a picture of the two, and observed, “Author Robert Anderson and Eric Harland were among the well-dressed guests.” This could be interpreted as (a) all the guests were well dressed, and these two dudes were among them, or (b) these San Francisco guys would make a fashion top 10 list for the event. I’m going with the latter.
Sydney/Reviews The god of music had taken human shape
Sometimes a review is not enough. One wants to thump a pulpit like some crazed evangelist and shout to the world that the god of music had taken human shape as Eric Harland’s Voyager, a quintet of such idiosyncratic musical personalities that sparks flew from every sonic collision. Both engaging and adventurous, its music was so hip it seemed one had entered a time warp and heard the sound of New York five years from now. At 36, Harland has already made nearly 200 albums and confirmed himself as a once-in-a-generation jazz drummer: not just a mind-bending virtuoso, but a master musician to join the pantheon of greats, such as Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Jack DeJohnette. The aptly-named Voyager showcases the breadth of his composing skills, and in concert these works were woven together into one long suite via solo features. To single out individual events would be to demean a holistic vision where idiom has been rendered redundant in favour of Harland presenting his extraordinary collaborators with challenges upon which to unleash their highly focused improvising. Guitarist Julian Lage is simply the most exciting guitarist I have heard this century. Working with a gloriously singing tone, his every melodic invention was enthralling. In one solo he devised a spiralling fairground-like figure that, as in some MC Escher painting, seemed to ascend and descend simultaneously. Pianist Taylor Eigsti was also exceptional, including on a reinterpretation of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage that seemed held in a miraculous state of suspension. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and bassist Harish Raghavn were ideal foils in being earthier players, with Smith able to provide windswept atmospherics and the bluesier implications in the compositions. All the while Harland ensured our voyage was loaded with rhythmic enigmas, sonic dreams, dynamic shifts and more colours than a dozen Vivid festivals. Being back in 2015 could seem a bit dull.
Canberra/Reviews Eric Harland at the Street Theatre
Eric Harland, the drummer with the fierce alive sound, is no longer just a star ascendant. He’s in high demand. At just 36 he has performed on more than 200 albums, has multiple Grammy nominations, and is kind of a big deal. And yet, he makes a Tuesday night at the Street Theatre feel like a very small and intimate place. It’s not often that you can describe drumming as “intimate” but Harland has a touch and finesse that allows him to create supremely delicate moments with full drums. He can hold the entire crowd on the tiny, jewel-toned turn of a cymbal and then switch into an imperious rush of beats and colours that fills the room. Harland isn’t a rock-star type. His name might be on the poster but he cuts an unassuming figure behind his drum kit in the centre of a dimly lit stage. He starts with some small-talk about how many vowels we skip in the pronunciation of Can-bra, introduces the band, tells us that we’re going on a musical journey, and they’re right in to it. Here he’s surrounded by his band, Taylor Eigsti on piano, Julian Lage on guitar, Harish Raghavan on bass and Walter Smith III on tenor sax. It’s Raghavan that I feel most sorry for. He’s tasked with trying to keep up with Harland’s virtuosic groove and you can see that he’s right at the limit of his abilities. Even his double bass struggles – requiring constant retuning. It’s a stark contrast to Harland, whose playing is as effortless as it is extraordinary. You know you’re watching someone special when the whole band turns to watch him play a solo. They don’t stop playing until intermission, seamlessly segueing between four tracks from Harland’s two albums Voyager: Live at Night and Vipassana. The transitions between pieces are barely detectable – the band just seems to find a new melody and start playing around with it. Harland’s sound alternates between Miles Davis cool jazz through to a higher energy Herbie Hancock style fusion. But it’s all those points in between that are more interesting. Describing this guy in terms of genre seems pointless – his grooves can last for anything from two seconds to 20 minutes and touch everything from the birth of jazz to hip-hop. Most of all, he has an outstanding ear. Good drummers can rotate between different grooves, but Harland manages to completely transform the aesthetic of the ensemble from moment to moment. His drum kit seems to expand and contract under the sticks, and with it the whole ensemble. It’s the same after intermission – four more conjoined pieces with a slightly higher energy and tempo. The encore is Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, one of the tracks on their Vipassana album completing a musical journey that has meandered from meditation to exhilaration.
The long wait on a cold and rainy Melbourne Sunday night for the first session of US drummer Eric Harland’s Voyager concert was worth it. Once inside the sold out Bennetts Lane Jazz Lab, the audience climbed aboard for an intergalactic trip powered by the man described as the ‘drummer’s drummer’. Harland did not so much lead as, together with the anchor of bassist Harish Raghavan, create an unstoppable rolling groove with the other gifted members of the band, steering a sonic spaceship on an exploration of musical galaxies. Playing a continuous suite of compositions from Harland’sdebut release, Voyager Live By Night, and his most recent album, Vipassana (a meditation technique meaning to ‘see in a special way’), the band created waves of sound that swooped and soared with the virtuoso guitar of Julian Lagewashing up in the soothing tonal saxophone of Walter Smith. Playing double snares and bass drums at times, and hand shakers, Harland created dense rhythmic textures that were always moving forward. Solos and interplay between pianist Taylor Eigisti and Lage signaled shifts into new numbers in a manner so fresh and unexpected that it seemed they were composing on stage. The music was by turn powerful, heroic and ethereal, conjuring up images of blasting into space and floating among far-flung constellations. Direction changes were initiated by the piano, guitar or saxophone above the surging and responsive rhythms of drums and bass. When it came time for the inevitable drum solo (the concert overall was a master class in itself), the melodic power and joy of Harland’s playing was breathtaking. Throughout the show Harland was a picture of intuitive concentration and joy – his attention focused on each member of the band. For over 90 minutes these consummate musicians (Eigisti, Lage and Smith are all band leaders in their own right) explored the outer and inner spaces of Voyager and Vipassana including Treachery, Voyager, Eclipse, Relax, Anjou and Singularis plus an encore that gently returned the transformed audience to earth. An hour later they were doing it all over again in their second set of the night. As Harland said in his tribute to the laid back friendliness of Australians, “we’re workaholics.”
I got a promo copy of Eric Harland’s Voyager’s upcoming album,Vipassana, in the mail just that Friday and it was probably what I was most surprised to receive and most excited to play on the air. I’m not even sure I have clearance to yet to play this on the air and subsequently to stream on the internet for the week (though there are clips of it at his website where you can also pre-order it for yourself), but here it is in all its awesomeness. You should get excited about this release soon. It’s out August 11th. Flying Lotus – All the Secrets feat. Austin Peralta
GSI STUDIOS ERIC HARLAND’S VOYAGER/Vipassana: You should check this out just because of the cats on board here, but if you do check this out because of the cats on board here, be prepared to hear them do nothing like you’ve ever heard them do before. In which we find a bunch of young jazzbos adding left leaning new age, their version of trip hop and more into the mix that makes this almost anything but a jazz record. Easily head music for the nu millennium, Harland and his pals are making the most of the deconstruction of everything to chart a course of their own. It’s laden with reliable chops and they are put in service of pushing the envelope. Aimed squarely at younger tastes, you can bet this will be the most roundabout way of having kids discover “Kind of Blue” ever. If you’re over 21 and not a fan of King Crimson and it’s off shoots, let the whippersnappers have a shot and have their say.
DAN BILAWSKY – Much is said about records once they’ve come into the world, but little is discussed about the motive(s) surrounding the birthing of a record. Sometimes it’s simply about marketing, exposure, money, and pure narcissism. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that on some level(s), and many classic albums have been made with little to nothing else in mind, but it’s harder to appreciate the artistry and the artist when records made for such reasons appear on the horizon. It’s far more satisfying to sit back and soak in the beauty and power of expertly-crafted music that’s been made in the name of self-expression by an artist who simply wants to capture who he (or she) is on a record. At least that’s the case with this one. Drummer Eric Harland has come to embody all that is right and good in jazz and drumming today. He’s a drummer’s drummer, a musician’s musician, and a supremely gifted communicator, capturing the spirit of sound and soul in his every beat. That’s evident on countless recordings. You can hear it when he lays down a simple and perfect groove on “Mo’ Better Blues” from pianist Jacky Terrasson‘s Smile (Blue Note, 2002); it’s apparent when he plays the role of a rhythmic mystic behind saxophone shaman Charles Lloyd; it’s plainly obvious when he adds a high-octane kick to the SFJAZZ Collective’s trips through the work of Horace Silver, Stevie Wonder and others; and you notice it without fail when he digs in his heels with bassist Dave Holland‘s Prism. The fact that Harland is such an in-demand side man has driven him to play different parts for different people, perhaps suppressing his own personality a bit in the process. His Voyager project has rectified that issue, giving him the chance to put himself out there for all to see and hear. This band’s debut—Voyager: Live By Night found Harland working different moods, but residing in a singular stylistic camp. It wasn’t all charge-ahead, firing-on-all-cylinders music, but all of the songs fell squarely under the admittedly all-too-broad “modern jazz” category. The music presented on Vipassana isn’t as unidirectional. Songs like “Relax” and “Passana” aren’t “songs” at all. They’re groove jams built in a Robert Glasper-turned-meditative vibe. That’s not at all surprising when you consider that the album’s title is a Buddhist-connected term that’s often translated as “Insight Meditation.” The same vibe can also be felt throughout “VI,” a short vehicle for pianist Taylor Eigsti. Those hip-hop-laced tracks show off a side of Harland that many may be unfamiliar with, but they don’t define this record. This isn’t Eric Harland’s arrival as a fully converted neo-soul jazz-er. The modern jazz, and quite a bit more, is still here. Harland and company create songs built atop cross-rhythmic streams (“Raghavan” and “Eminence”), boil over with enthusiasm, paint poignant and semi-ethereal pictures (“Greene”), and, in an odd twist, turn toward rock balladry on a single occasion (“Normal”). All of the musicians that appeared with Harland on Voyager: Live By Night adding another dimension. But it’s the other new arrival—vocalist Christopher Turner—that serves as a game-changer.