CONCERT PREVIEW: You lucky West Coasters! Coming to your side o’ the country is guitarist Joel Harrison’s Free Country band, which specializes in very creative, sometimes far-in, sometimes far-out reinventions of classic country (and occasionally folk) tunes. Country music and jazz have always been uneasy riders, strange bedfellows, and only occasionally allies, simpatico: there was Fusion decades before the term had been coined and it was called Western Swing (Bob Wills, Milton Brown, Hank Penny), as it combined country and western with hot and big band jazz; there was Hank Garland, a talented guitarist who played on both sides of the divide; Charlie Parker was a fan of country music and there was a rumored/semi-legendary jam session between Bird and country singer Ray Price’s band; Bill Frisell and Gary Burton recorded with Nashville musicians and Sonny Rollins recorded an album of cowboy tunes in the 50s; many years back I was channel-surfing one night and I went past PBS, where Austin City Limits had some country band that was engaging in some nifty jazzy jams on one of their tunes I later found it was Merle Haggard’s band. Speaking as a fan of both, there are not a lot of examples of cross-pollination between two quintessentially American musical forms. While Harrison’s new album Free Country (ACT/High Note) isn’t exactly an amalgam or co-mingling of country and jazz - there’s not much of the country sound to be had here it’s a fascinating set where Harrison and his merry (read: extremely talented and eclectic) band (featuring guests Norah Jones, Rob Burger and Uri Caine) do some very singular improvisations on some country classics in a way that recalls somewhat Bill Frisell’s Nashville, albeit much more adventurously (read: free/out/avant). Harrison maintains the mournful, almost gothic ambiance of Haggard’s farewell-to-this-veil-of-tears "Sing Me Back Home," but Johnny Cash’s bad-ass anthem "Folsom Prison Blues" get transmuted into a noisy rave-up while maintaining its inner locomotion. Harrison has a style slightly similar to that of Frisell (Jim Hall gets real, real gone) but a bit chunkier, with a tad more rock ‘n’ country influence and a bit more straightforward swing. If you live in the way-out west or will be visiting, here’s where he’ll be:
Tour dates: * 8/1 Los Angeles County Museum of Art - 5-8pm * 8/2 Rocco @ The Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood, CA - 11pm-1am www.roccoinla.com * 8/3 Zoey's, 451 E. Main Street, Ventura, CA - 7:30pm & 9:30pm www.zoeyscafe.com ** 8/4 Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, CA - 8pm www.yoshis.com *** 8/5 Q's, 140 Lithia Way, Ashland, OR - 9pm *** 8/6 Sam Bonds Garage, 407 Blair Blvd, Eugene, OR 8pm *** 8/7 Squirrel's, 100 SW 2nd Avenue, Corvallis, OR 9:30pm *** 8/8 Jimmy Mack's, Portland, OR 9pm *** 8/9 Pendleton Center for the Arts, 214 N. Main Street, Pendleton, OR 7:30pm, $15, $12 members *** 8/10 Battelle Auditorium - Main Battelle Campus, Richland, WA 7:30pm **** 8/11 Art House, Olympia, WA 8pm *** 8/12 Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, WA - 9pm, $10 www.tractortavern.com
*Joel Harrison (vocals, electric and electric slide guitars); David Binney (alto sax, live sampling); Thomas Morgan (acoustic bass); Dan Weiss (drums, tablas); Jeff Gauthier (violin).
**Joel Harrison (vocals, electric and electric slide guitars); David Binney (alto sax, live sampling); Thomas Morgan (acoustic bass); Dan Weiss (drums, tablas); Raz Kennedy (vocals); Mark Little (piano).
***Joel Harrison (vocals, electric and electric slide guitars); David Binney (alto sax, live sampling); Thomas Morgan (acoustic bass); Dan Weiss (drums, tablas).
****Joel Harrison (vocals, electric and electric slide guitars); David Binney (alto sax, live sampling); Thomas Morgan (acoustic bass); Dan Weiss (drums, tablas); Bert Wilson (saxophone).
Be there - aloha.