It’s hard to know where to start with Joel Harrison, a local guitarist-composer for whom every gig or recording represents a chance to launch a fresh concept. This year alone, Harrison has curated the three-night Alternative Guitar Summit, celebrated a dramatic new Chamber Music America–commissioned album (Search) and staged a covers concert focusing on the pivotal year of 1970. All this follows an equally busy 2011, in which he premiered a large-ensemble piece, led his String Choir through works by Paul Motian and duetted with an Indian sarod player. You’d need a spreadsheet to keep it all straight.
Better to forgo completism and just dive in; Monday’s show presents the perfect opportunity. The album Harrison’s celebrating here—Holy Abyss (Cuneiform), co-conceived with Italian bassist Lorenzo Feliciati—doesn’t come with any fancy conceptual hook. It’s simply a great illustration of the way the guitarist uses a broad sonic palette to wring maximum emotion out of his plainspoken melodies. On opener “Requiem for an Unknown Soldier,” Harrison flattens his signal into whooshing static, before settling on a light coat of distortion for a soaring fusion-steeped solo.
Neither Feliciati nor any of the Holy Abyss sidemen will be joining Harrison tonight, but the cast he has assembled—trumpeter Shane Endsley, pianist Mick Rossi, bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Jordan Perlson—should have no trouble nailing the record’s postbop-gone-psychedelic textures. If you’re intrigued, catch the project now; knowing Harrison, he’ll be off on a whole other trip next time.—Hank Shteamer
Follow Hank Shteamer on Twitter: @DarkForcesSwing