In On The 2
Remi Harris is in an enviable position, having both youth on his side and talent in abundance, and the goodwill of both the jazz scene and the more commercial crossover market that opens up as a consequence of support from Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music. He operates within the confines of the gypsy jazz style as originated by the great Django, which allows for a great deal of individual virtuosity within the very set stylistic limits of a chunking offbeat rhythm guitar marking unwaveringly strict swing time under a fiery soaring lead; it’s a genre that remains a fountainhead of inspiration for jazz guitarists, especially those who are coming from a place outside the American jazz tradition, and is where Martin Taylor OBE got his start. It’s also remained very true to its original form as conceived in 1930s Europe, so it’s natural that a youngster like Harris would also have a range of more contemporary musical inspirations, and want to incorporate them into his oeuvre. So alongside such Django-esque staples as Cherokee and Putting On the Ritz this album features material from such diverse sources as the Beatles, Neil Young, the Meters (a rollicking Cissy Strut) and Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac. There’s also an investigation of more contemporary jazz derivations – ‘contemporary’ being a relative term in this case to include Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Bill Evans.
Can’t Buy Me Love and Cherokee demonstrate Harris’ awesome skill within the tradition; torrents of perfectly executed licks, with flawless time and effortless articulation, with all the fun and eccentricity of Django’s unique euro-goes-bebop melodic sensibility that preceded the boppers at their own game. Harris accompanies himself throughout via the magic of overdubbing, and herein perhaps lies a problem; without the live interplay of musicians, some of the pieces don’t really take flight, so that despite the superbly inventive soloing, Round Midnight and Waltz For Debbie sound a little staid. Veteran Mike Green provides solid accompaniment and a couple of very enjoyable solos, notably on Bock to Bock but his role is to remain in support, rather than to join the conversation. Have You Met Miss Jones fares better as there’s a little more air in the arrangement, but the two rock numbers are left in their original rhythmic feels, and while they demonstrate Harris’ versatility, seem incongruous beside the very traditional treatments that dominate elsewhere. In the blues-fest Need Your Love So Bad, Harris runs the risk of simply swapping one set of cliches for another, rather than expanding on his chosen form. Only the time-twisting orientalism of Odd Elegy offers something intriguingly new and different. It’s a difficult undertaking to update a tradition as strong and resilient as gypsy jazz and if Harris hasn’t quite managed it here he’s given ample evidence of the breadth of his talent and willingness to experiment – future developments should be very interesting.
Remi Harris, guitar; Mike Green, double bass.
Yardbird Arts: www.yardbirdarts.com