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Joel Harrison & Anupam Shobhakar Multiplicity: Leave the Door Open

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To say an artist “is challenging himself” is a tired cliché, so let’s simply note that guitarist-composer Joel Harrison exhibits uncommon curiosity and endurance in his search for different ways to make his music beautiful and visceral. On Leave the Door Open, Harrison forges ahead with kindred spirit Anupam Shobhakar on a project that entwines classical, pop and improvisational modes from both an American and Indian perspective. On Mother Stump Harrison’s guitar blazes a trail back through the roots of his formative decades in Washington D.C. during the 1960s and ’70s. We’ll leave his upcoming third 2014 release, with a Vietnamese trumpeter, electric bassoonist and drummer Brian Blade, for another time.

It is not often that “world music fusion” is spelled out more explicitly or enjoyably than on the nine-song program for Leave the Door Open. Shobhakar plays the sarode, the deeper, more resonant cousin to the sitar in Indian music. It is enlightening to hear him ply it within the company of a jazz quartet (Harrison, keyboardist Gary Versace, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Dan Weiss) on, say, a spooky cover of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” with Versace spooling organ licks. Elsewhere there is delicate chamber music, more sinuous blues-jazz, and a pair of very different songs featuring Indian classical vocalists-the suite-like “Multiplicity,” with various levels of intensity fueled by Shobhakar, Chandrashekar Vase on voice and Weiss on drums and tabla; and the traditional Bengal ballad “Kemne Avul,” anchored by the melancholy croon of Bonnie Chakraborty. And don’t miss “Turning World,” which uses the same riff to bounce between a bluegrass-oriented groove and a bustling Indian raga.

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