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Joel Harrison: Harrison on Harrison

Jazz guitarist Joel Harrison plays the music of rock guitarist George Harrison. That’s one helluva dubiously concocted concept. Does the slight novelty of a shared surname justify paying jazz tribute to a rock god? About half the time it does. In league with a high caliber cast including saxophonist Dave Liebman and pianist Uri Caine, Harrison makes the most out of the quiet Beatle’s songs when he abstracts from their world-famous melodies. “Here Comes the Sun” becomes a playground for Liebman and altoist David Binney’s searing squawks and “Within You Without You” allows for heavy and deep exploration of its Eastern themes. When Harrison plays ’em straight, sticking close to the melody with legato leads in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and charging the opening bars of “Taxman” with blaring horns, the songs largely remain the catchy gems they are in their original forms–even with Liebman playing like he’s out to kill that taxman.

With the instrumentals working so well, isn’t a pity that Harrison lent his bluesman’s croon to “The Art of Dying” and an otherwise wonderfully sparse, steel-guitar rendition of “My Sweet Lord”? It is. In fact, the musicians impart more wisdom with their instruments than most of ol’ George’s lyrics ever did anyway–God bless him.

Originally Published