505, June 3
Sometimes a review is not enough. One wants to thump a pulpit like some crazed evangelist and shout to the world that the god of music had taken human shape as Eric Harland’s Voyager, a quintet of such idiosyncratic musical personalities that sparks flew from every sonic collision. Both engaging and adventurous, its music was so hip it seemed one had entered a time warp and heard the sound of New York five years from now.
At 36 Harland has already made nearly 200 albums and confirmed himself as a once-in-a-generation jazz drummer: not just a mind-bending virtuoso, but a master musician to join the pantheon of such greats as Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Jack DeJohnette.
The aptly-named Voyager showcases the breadth of his composing skills, and in concert these works were woven together into one long suite via solo features. To enumerate individual events in idiomatic terms would be to demean a holistic vision where idiom has been rendered redundant in favour of Harland presenting his extraordinary collaborators with diverse challenges and distinctive fields upon which to unleash their highly focused improvising.
Guitarist Julian Lage is simply the most exciting guitarist I have heard this century. Working with a gloriously singing tone his every melodic invention was enthralling. In one solo he devised a spiralling fairground-like figure that, as in some MC Escher painting, seemed to ascend and descend simultaneously.
Pianist Taylor Eigsti was also exceptional, including on a reinterpretation of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage that seemed held in a miraculous state of suspension. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and bassist Harish Raghavn were ideal foils in being earthier players, with Smith able to provide windswept atmospherics as well find the bluesier implications in the compositions.
All the while Harland was ensuring our voyage was loaded with rhythmic enigmas, sonic dreams, emphatic dynamic shifts and more colours than a dozen Vivid festivals. Being back in 2015 could seem a bit dull.