The average jazz fan can be forgiven for having some apprehension about a record called "Chromology - Compositions for the Chromatic Harmonica." Harmonica player Chet Williamson hopes to put you at ease with the title track opening, "Chromology," a jaunty piece of harmonica near-bebop running over Dick Odgren's walking bass line on piano. If you thought the chromatic harmonica might sound sad, or pensive, or even just "chromatic," the opening tune will shift your ears into a new gear. And then you might remember that Stevie Wonder brought the sound of the chromatic harmonica into mainstream consciousness with his numerous recorded solos on the instrument, such as the melody on his 1970s hit "Isn't She Lovely".
The rest of Chromology is an eclectic mix of jazz and blues originals by Williamson, several dedicated to musicians he's known who have since passed on. While overall the set is uneven and there are some forgettable tunes, there are also some gems: "Sixteen Bars Later", a kind of bluesy tango that Williamson says he wrote "after a night of walking sideways, long ago"; "My Life as a Dog", evoking a pooch spending a lazy summer day waiting for his owner to return; and a beautiful, sunrise-over-the-meadow ballad called "Recovery" that seems to tell a touching story of the journey to freedom, and for which Odgren lays the perfect emotional context on piano.
Williamson is a bit of a Massachusetts jazz wonk, having written a book some years ago called "The Jazz Worcester Real Book" that chronicles 100 local musicians from this town that lies about 40 miles west of Boston. Who knew? Worcester even has its own indie record label, Altimeter Records, producer of Chromology.
Chromology will of course appeal to jazz harmonica fans who are looking to go beyond the familiarity of the legendary Toots Thielemans, but for those of you who think "jazz harmonica" is an oxymoron, give a listen and let Chet Williamson show you it makes perfect sense.