3 June 2015
Eric Harland's gig was a writhing, roiling, rhythmic adventure. The band is called Voyager and he promised a voyage with his opening words. They played two sets with an interval. Each set was nonstop, a medley of 3 or 4 tunes from one or another album. I didn't particularly take note of the tunes or melodies. The whole merged into a maelstrom of groove punctuated, or perhaps more accurately, coloured with solos: solos more as features than as individual statements. They seemed to come and go. Some were particularly notable. Drums took a big feature towards the end (common enough and huge with a master like this). Piano had one display of unaccompanied classical chops and another bop-styled solo that stood out, and another that was described as a feature (on the encore, Maiden Voyage) that was, to my ear, more richly varied harmonic accompaniment than solo. Julian on guitar took frequent solos or inserted single line responses, all clear with just some driven edge from a Telecaster. He could play some devastating, light, lithe sweeps but these were not frequent. His approach was more formal, crisp, with regularity that spoke of exercises over octaves. Sax spelt much of the melodic movement while mostly immersed in a sea of groove although also making several clear solo statements. It was hard work for the bass, responding to this maelstrom; he took an occasional little spot, but job seemed to be mostly following Eric's kick while spelling the changes. Eric had two kick drums and the layout allowed Harish to see at least one beater. The compositions were nothing spectacular but the performance was to die for. To my ears, Eric Harland defined it all. He'd sit on most complex grooves, unyielding or mutating, moving accents and features and tonality at will. This was chops holding immense, sustained, unreleased tension. Bars split with 16ths, triplets, whatever, for dense colour and life. I was amused to hear a passage of occasional hits on kick drum backing the sax feature: he had two bass drums and the two tones became evident and the divisions of the beat was so clever, irregular yet spelling clear time. He smiled here, picked up some little hand percussion, took a drink from a water bottle. All in the line of work. There's a YouTube video that I have yet to watch that has Eric Harland explaining how to make a five interesting (Eric Harland on making 5 pattern more interesting, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHxMg4Dm6rs). Basically, it's by "accenting the 5th beat in every other cycle. Then moving it around for a different effect." Yeah, we had a lesson last night in just this and it was a thing of wonder. This was exhilarating and a display of just how good the best can be. Just one style, simple melody, interesting features, but some of the hottest, most intense and exciting rhythms I've heard.
Voyager were Eric Harland (drums), Walter Smith III (tenor), Julian Lage (guitar), Taylor Eigsti (piano) and Harish Raghavan (bass). They played at the Street Theatre for the Capital Jazz Project.